RECRUITING: Speed Kills! Spiller Does 4.28 TWICE

JACKSONVILLE --- C.J. Spiller's plan was quite simple. There was no bravado and certainly no trash talking. He did things the way he always does them when he's going to run. He said a little prayer, got in his stance and waited for the signal to go. Then he just ran as fast as he could run, eyes fixed on the finish line 40 yards away where a crowd was gathered.

When Spiller finished that 40 the stopwatch read 4.28 seconds. He blazed through a 4.31 40 earlier in the day at the All-America Combine held at Jacksonville University Sunday. When Belle Glade sophomore Deante Thompson (spring best over 100 meters is 10.3 seconds for the Glades Central track team) turned in a scorching 4.29, a match race was called.

Spiller is 5-11 tightly bundled package of muscle from Union County, considered one of the top five running back prospects in the nation by and just about every recruiting service out there. He knew what he had to do and he also knew exactly what must be going through Thompson's mind.

"That was me last year," said Spiller. "Last year I was the guy nobody knew and I got a really fast time. This year it's his turn. He's a great athlete. He'll get faster and I'm sure he will be the number one prospect in the country by the time he's a senior."

Spiller's approach was almost too calm. He's rather quiet by nature anyway, so it isn't unusual for him to simply focus in on what he's got to do. Always, just before he runs, he takes a moment and says a prayer. He doesn't ask to win, just that he does the best he can do and that nobody gets hurt.

"I just asked God to let me run fast as I can," he said, "and if I run fast it's because he gave me the ability to do it, so I'm happy I can tell you that God gets all the glory."

The match race was a blur. Spiller exploded out of his stance so quickly that a lot of observers thought he jumped the gun. He was a blur as he crossed the finish line in 4.28 seconds with Thompson only a yard behind him. Thompson's supporters thought Spiller was guilty of a false start so they called for a second chance. It was obvious Thompson wanted to run again.

Asked to run again, Spiller just shrugged and walked back to the starting line. He went through the exact same routine in his pre-race preparation, got in his stance and stared at the finish line, poised and ready to go.

Proving that the first time was not a fluke and that he didn't jump the gun, he turned in an identical 4.28. Thompson ran with him stride for stride and if there had been a tape, perhaps he would have been declared the winner by a chest thrust that got his head a few inches in front of Spiller, but on this day, there was no winner and no loser. There were just two incredibly fast kids proving that not all 40-times are rigged. They were in cleats. They were running on grass. It was hand timed and two watches got the same time.

The match race between Spiller and Thompson results in a dead heat in yet another 4.28.

"Did you see how fast he ran?" Spiller asked. "He's very fast and he's just a sophomore. He's very impressive."

That's not false humility you hear. That's the way C.J. Spiller is all the time.

"I've known him since he was in kindergarten," said Union County Coach Buddy Nobles. "Him and Kasey (Nobles, tight end, coach's son), Kevin (Alexander, linebacker), Brendan (Odom, defensive end) and all of them went to kindergarten together and I've known them all since they were knee high to a grasshopper. C.J.'s just a humble, sweet natured kid. There are probably some kids out there that you worry about if they're for real. Well, this one is. He's a first class kid, a real God fearing kid.

"When he told me about what he's looking for when he goes away to school, the first thing he told me is it's got to be somewhere that has a good church that he can go to. He's already got it figured out that there's more to life than just football."

The speed is the first thing that people notice when Spiller is on the football field. He averaged 11.6 yards per carry as a junior, gaining more than 1100 yards on just 86 carries. Much of the yardage can be attributed to pure speed, but Nobles says don't think that speed is Spiller's entire game.

"In the offense we run we have three backs," said Nobles. "It's what we call a blue collar offense because everyone has to know how to take and block, not just run the ball. That's the thing that most people never see with C.J. He's a great blocker. Everyone sees all the long runs but I see how well he blocks and how well he carries out every fake. He can outrun you but he's also very aware of where the (first down) sticks are. He's not afraid to lower his shoulder and take someone on to get the extra yard. He's not shy about contact at all."

The three-back offense that carried Union County to the state championship game two years ago and deep into the playoffs last year, will give way to the I-formation in 2005. The plan is to get the ball in the Spiller's hands far more often.

Here, C.J. Spiller runs a combine best time of 4.28 in the 40 (handheld).

"I saw the top 20 rushers in the state and C.J. had 1100 plus yards on only 86 carries," said Nobles. "It made me look like a real fool because here I've got a back who can run like this and I'm not getting the ball to him. We kind of fooled around a little bit with the I-formation last year. Well, this year we're going to move Kasey to fullback and Brendan to tight end and we're going to give the ball in the I to C.J. so he can put more pressure on the defenses."

Spiller is doing extra duty in the weight room to prepare for the extra hits he will take his senior year. He benches 285 pounds now, a full 100 pounds more than his body weight, but he knows he needs to get stronger.

"I've been taking weight lifting seriously so I can get ready to get the ball more in my senior year," Spiller said. "I want to have my body ready so when the fourth quarter comes around I'm not worn down from the pounding. I want to be strong enough to be fresh in the fourth quarter."

His approach to the upcoming football season will be no more different than his approach was Sunday when he took on Thompson in the match race. He'll focus in on what he has to do, say a prayer asking God to let him run as fast as he can, and then he'll simply do his job.

"I have to put God first," he said. "I thanked him today for letting me come out here to compete with all these great players and I thanked him when it was over for letting me run fast and for keeping me and the other guys from getting hurt. That's what I do every time I compete."

Spiller's mail box is jammed with letters from just about every Division I school in the country, but there are three that stand out.

"There are three that are ahead of everyone else," he said. "Florida, Florida State and Auburn. That's my three."

COMBINE NOTES: The 40 times are all very real, nothing enhanced. Players ran on a grass field wearing football cleats. There were no running starts and no track shoes allowed.

Over 100 attendees showed up at the Combine. Here they're warming up.

Defensive back Jacques Rickerson of St. Augustine ran a 4.43 40. He's 5-10, 180 and very quick … Watch the name Chase Anderson rising on the tight end charts. He's a 6-4, 240-pounder from Mandarin who ran a 4.8 40 before tweaking a hamstring… Kasey Nobles showed the best hands in the passing drills, making two straight over the shoulder catches with one hand. Nobles is 6-0, 216 whose future looks to be fullback for a team that uses the fullback in the passing scheme … Mainland's Tony Wilson ran an effortless 4.55. He runs pass routes with the same smooth strides that he showed in the 40. His brother is a wide receiver at North Carolina.

Jamar Hornsby and Jacques Rickerson

Hamilton County's Dustin Doe will rise quickly on the linebacker charts nationally. He measured 6-2 (stocking feet), 210 and ran a crisp 4.60 … Safety Donsay Hardeman of Raines is 6-1, 200 but he's got the long arms and legs that make you think he'll grow into a linebacker at the next level … Jamar Hornsby of Sandalwood, considered by many to be the state's top prospect, didn't run Sunday. He tweaked a hamstring … Zackery Henderson of Bartram Trail has the height (6-7) D-1 schools look for at offensive tackle. He's only 250 now but he's got the long arms and legs that will let him put on lots of muscle. He showed plenty of agility in the shuttle runs… Melbourne's Ryan Wischnefski measured 6-2.5, 288 and ran a 5.26 40. He's another who will play guard at the next level.

Mainland's big offensive lineman Cruz Barrett measured 6-3.5, 331 pounds. He's got offensive guard written all over him. He ran a 5.54 40 … The best looking offensive lineman was Ryan Cave of Beaufort, S.C. who is 6-5, 340. He ran his 40 in the low 5.0s and showed outstanding agility in the shuttles… Watch wide receiver Jovaughn Harris of Eau Gallie in the next few months. He's 6-3, 218 and has excellent hands to go with 4.65 speed… Florida Air wide receiver Sherman Lang was quite disappointed with two 4.73s in the 40. He's a transfer from Boca Raton who is high on the Florida, Florida State and Miami charts.

Kevin Alexander of Union County is the younger brother of former Gator Bennie Alexander. He's 6-4, 215. He's a linebacker now, but should probably expect to play defensive end at the next level … Union County's Willie Oliver measured 6-2.5, 244. He's got the frame to add weight and move inside at the next level … Madison County running back Desmond Gee (5-8.5, 170) ran a very quick 4.58 … Although he doesn't have great size (5-10, 160), Winter Haven's Zach Charles has 4.46 speed and good cover skills. He's a true corner, but he doesn't look like he can add more than 10-15 pounds… Nease quarterback Tim Tebow was there, but he didn't participate since he pitched a baseball game Saturday. He's 6-1 this season and scouts think he may have first round potential next spring in the baseball draft.

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