Spiller staring at his future

CLEMSON — When C.J. Spiller opened up his letter from the NFL Advisory Committee in January and saw a first-round grade, he just stared at it.

For a second, all the running back from Lake Butler, Fla., could think about was what those words meant. From the time he was six years old and was playing Pop Warner football, he dreamed about that moment. The very idea he was about to fulfill his dream and play in the NFL was staring him right in the face.

"It was something that you have been dreaming about your whole life and you were seeing it take shape," said Spiller recently in an exclusive interview with CUTigers.com. "But I had to look at the other side. Is this what I really want to do?

"A lot of guys get first round grades, but just like this year's draft, which was upside down, no one really knows what's going to happen until draft day. I paid a lot of attention to (the grade), but not that much. I still did my homework and I still did my research and got more evaluations."

That research, plus a lot of praying with friends and family, led Spiller back to Clemson for his senior year. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound back, who will graduate in December with a degree in sociology, says that was one of the hardest decisions of his life.

"It was probably harder than I wanted it to be. You're talking about millions of dollars and then coming back and playing one more year and coming back and getting your degree," he said. "When you look at the draft, you know history tells you that most running backs go late.

"I had to look around the country and compare myself to the other guys. When myself and Coach Swinney talked, we felt that I was most likely one of the top three running backs according to what guys like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay were saying.

"But I don't look at that. That's just what people say. You still have to go out there and perform and it is all about what the team needs. Hopefully, I will just be able to go out there and perform and my stock will go up."

A lot of people are expecting Spiller to perform. Clemson University is well into the works at a campaign to promote him as an official Heisman Trophy candidate — the first running back at Clemson to be in that position since Kenny Flowers in 1986. His head coach, Dabo Swinney, began the campaign before Spiller even decided he was coming back to Clemson.

"It's an honor just to be mentioned, especially along with all the other names that are being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate," Spiller said. (Roy Philpott/CUTigers.com)

Spiller's numbers are definitely Heisman worthy. He is already Clemson's all-time leader in all-purpose yards with 4,908 yards and needs just 921 yards to become the all-time leader in ACC history. He needs just 83 receiving yards to become the first player in Clemson history to record 1,000 receiving yards, 2,000 rushing yards and 1,000 kickoff return yards.

He has recorded a school record 12 touchdowns of 50 or more yards, seven of which have been from 80 or more yards. In all he owns 12 school records already, including yards per carry in a season (7.3), receptions by a running back in a game (7), receiving yards in a season (436), touchdowns of 50 yards or more in a season (6), consecutive games with a kickoff for a touchdown (2), kickoff returns in a season (2), career kickoff returns for a touchdown (3), all-purpose yards per game (129.2) and ways to score a touchdown (4).

"It's an honor just to be mentioned, especially along with all the other names that are being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate," Spiller said. "You look around at your competition and you see there are guys like Tim (Tebow) and don't forget that Sam Bradford guy. He is probably the most accurate quarterback in college football right now and then you have Colt McCoy.

"Just to be mentioned among those top guys, it's an honor. I still have to go work hard. I still have to go out there and perform. I can't slack off just because I'm mentioned for all of these awards. That means nothing if I don't take this off-season as important as I should."

Working hard isn't a problem for Spiller. He's known by his teammates and coaches as one of the hardest working guys on the team. No better example of that than last year, when he spent the entire off-season making himself stronger so he could be a better runner in between the tackles.

He made a conscious effort to make himself more of a north-south runner, which paid off by accounting for 1,065 all-purpose yards, which ranked 14th in the nation, while tying James Davis for the team-lead with 11 touchdowns.

Spiller vows to work even harder this year. Because he knows if works harder and can perform better than last season, he knows it would benefit more than himself. It would benefit the team and that's what it's really all about.

"Holding the Heisman Trophy was one of my dreams before I even got to college," he said. "I've always watched the Heisman Trophy presentation and I've always wanted to be in New York. Just to get the feeling and know that it hasn't been given to me, I'm going to take the opportunity that has been given to me and I'm going to work hard.

"I'm going to work hard to help this team win first, and then hopefully, I will be invited to New York."

And then it will be off to the NFL.

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