LAKE FOREST – They may be small in stature, but Tarik Cohen and Benny Cunningham have big personalities.
That’s part of the reason the Bears backfield tandem won the 2017 Brian Piccolo Award.
The special honor is voted on by their teammates. The criteria is straightforward. Someone who best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of the late Brian Piccolo.
“It means a lot. It just shows what my teammates think of me and that I’m really fitting in,” noted Cohen. “That was my biggest worry coming into the NFL. You’ve been with a team for four years in college and then you’re in a whole new setting. To see that I’m fitting in well means a lot.”
Cohen and Cunningham watched Brian’s Song together. It’s no surprise, Cohen’s favorite character was Piccolo – someone who worked hard, but kept things light.
Although, Cohen wasn’t always as outspoken as he is now.
“I was quiet at first. You’ve got to see how everybody is. I really think Benny Cunningham brought my true side out of me. When you get comfortable around somebody, you start acting like yourself. I was really comfortable around him, so everybody else got to witness that.”
Cunningham not only put Cohen at ease, he became his neighbor and mentor.
“Him having me under his wing coming into the NFL, him teaching me the ins and outs of the NFL, what to do, all those types of things – it just goes to show what type of guy he is. That’s why he won the award.”
“Everything that they say about Tarik is true,” explained Cunningham. “His passion, he’s also selfless. As great of a player as he is, I’ve never heard him say he needs more. He works hard. Doesn’t complain. Goes out of his way to brighten people’s days. It’s no surprise that he won that award.”
Piccolo’s sudden death struck a cord with Cunningham. He lost his father to cancer in 8th grade.
“Not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my father and the impact that he had on my life. There were a lot of points where I hated football. Hated the idea of football. Didn’t want to play football. Didn’t understand why he was so hard on me. With the life I have now, the blessings that I’ve been able to receive – there’s no way I can’t think ‘this is what you were doing it for. This is why you were hard on me, making me practice certain ways or making me take it serious at such a young age.’ The things that I’ve been able to accomplish on and off the field, the relationships. the experiences, the places that I’ve been able to travel all because of football – there’s no way that I can not think of him every day I get to wake up and do this job.”