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Tarik Cohen using injured brother as motivation heading into training camp

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The Bears running back discusses his recent family tragedy, Mitchell Trubisky’s progression as a quarterback, and more in an exclusive interview with Windy City Gridiron.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Tarik Cohen is ready for the 2019 season.
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Tarik Cohen has had a chip on his shoulder his entire life.

Standing at only 5-foot-6, the Bears running back faced ironically tall odds to become an NFL player. Despite a successful high school career, he only received a Division I offer from one school. That school was North Carolina A&T, where he topped 1,000 yards all four years he was there. After dominating the FCS, he was selected by Chicago in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Rookies selected on the third day of the draft rarely make as big of an immediate impact as Cohen, who shined in his rookie campaign and was named an All-Pro punt returner in just his second season.

Last month, though, he acquired a new chip: one that had nothing to do with his football skills.

Cohen revealed on Saturday at his alma mater that his brother was recently shot, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. The incident, which happened in early June, has saddened Cohen and his family, but it has also given him a new reason to continue surpassing expectations.

“It feels like I was injured, also,” he said. “[He’s] somebody I’ve been around my whole life. I feel like we’re one. It’s not like he’s a different person; we’re the same person. If anything affects him, it affects me. That’s my little brother. I do the best to protect him my whole life.

“When this happened, it was a culture shock to me. [I] just try to be around him as much as possible, let him know everything will be alright.”

Cohen stated that family has always been a motivating factor for his success, but now more than ever, he feels the desire to succeed for his brother.

“I just want to do things for him,” he said. “I know it’s not possible, [but] I feel like I want to walk for him. I want to experience things for him and let him see those things, so he can feel like he has done them, also.”

Between visiting his brother and preparing for the new season, Cohen has been holding youth football camps, both in the Chicagoland area and in his home state of North Carolina. At his camp at Elk Grove High School on Monday, he participated in drills with over 150 children from grades 1-8, helping them learn the fundamentals of the game of football.

Tarik Cohen prepares to break a huddle with kids at his youth football camp in Elk Grove.
Jacob Infante - Windy City Gridiron

“It’s great,” Cohen explained. “The reason I like to do these camps is because it took me a long time in my life to meet my first NFL player. I like getting to the younger kids and being the first NFL player they meet. It kind of sets them up like, ‘well, he’s my size, so I probably could do it, too’. [I] give them that encouragement.”

The running back realizes the importance that prominent athletes like him have in the eyes of the youth, so he made sure to make an impact on as many kids as possible at the camp.

“My main goal is to interact with all of the kids,” he stated. “I don’t want to be at one group the whole time and [the kids] go home like, ‘I didn’t even get the chance to talk to Tarik Cohen or meet him’, so I try to bounce everywhere and meet all of the kids.”

Tarik Cohen spins a football on the turf in between drills.
Jacob Infante - Windy City Gridiron

Heading into his third NFL season, Cohen is in the midst of his first offseason coming off of a playoff campaign. Much of the hype—or skepticism, for that matter—surrounding the team revolves around quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who has become a divisive a player as they come in football circles. Regardless of how others view the signal-caller, Cohen notices improvement in Trubisky’s game from last season to now.

“The things he does at the line of scrimmage now,” he told Windy City Gridiron. “He’s taking control of the offense; he’s got the reigns now. He can switch the play from a run play to a pass play, so he’s just feeling more in control now.”

As the Bears head into training camp, Cohen feels confident that he and his team will do well in the coming year. With his brother on his mind, he is ready to try and bring the Lombardi Trophy to Chicago.