COAL CITY – Coal City High School football players, coaches and administrators knew there would be a presentation Monday night of a $50,000 check from the Chicago Bears.
But they didn’t know former Bears linebacker and future National Football League Hall of Fame inductee Brian Urlacher would be there to answer their questions and present the donation. The money is helping to cover the noninsured repair costs the school was left with following the devastation of an EF3 tornado June 22.
“I didn’t know a player was coming,” Coal City High School football coach Lenny Onsen said.
As players finished practice at about 5:45 p.m. with some conditioning work, they were told to make a quick change, get a drink of water and head back to the field.
Onsen looked on as a tall man in a blue Bears polo shirt, khaki shorts and a white golf hat walked through the parking lot with just a few Bears media employees.
“Who is that?” Onsen said.
Seconds later, the players figured it out and tried to contain their emotion as Urlacher walked up the hill to the north end of their practice field. Before long, Urlacher was sharing stories about his high school days.
Players asked him questions about his high school days in New Mexico, where he was the only player to make it to college football on a scholarship.
He told the players to enjoy high school football, because after that football – and life – becomes more serious.
“I wish I could go back to high school,” Urlacher said to the team.
It wasn’t always serious for Urlacher, though. When asked about pranks he and his Bears teammates pulled on each other, Urlacher said for four years they played a game where they placed cardboard boxes unexpectedly on each other’s heads.
He shared stories about the Super Bowl XLI run in 2007, where the Bears lost to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. He told them his favorite places to play, such as Soldier Field, Lambeau Field and the Georgia Dome.
When asked if he preferred to play with former Bears quarterback Rex Grossman or current Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, he caught everyone off guard.
“Kyle Orton was the best quarterback I played with,” Urlacher said.
But Urlacher wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for the June tornado.
He said he lived in an area of New Mexico that was susceptible to tornadoes, so he knows how devastating they can be, and also the resiliency communities such as Coal City have shown.
Urlacher said visiting the high school caused him to reminisce a bit about his high school days.
“I’m glad the Bears chose me to do this,” Urlacher said. “They’re good kids. It seems like they had fun.”
Before he left, several players rushed to their lockers to grab their cellphones for a selfie with the Bears legend.
Coal City High School Athletic Director Dan Hutchings said he didn’t know who was coming on behalf of the Bears, but said it’s overwhelming to think they thought enough of Coal City, a small community about 62 miles away from Soldier Field.
Hutchings said the money is already being used to repair fencing on the soccer fields and eventually will help the baseball and softball fields. The school is expecting delivery of a new football scoreboard Wednesday.