RECRUITING: Only Three Know Where Spiller Leans

C.J. Spiller has learned to tune out the daily rumor mill that offers the latest, greatest opinion about where he's going to be playing college football in 2006. Depending on which publication you read or which internet site you go to most often there is some sort of story or some rumor on the message boards claiming that this blazing fast tailback from Union County (FL) is leaning one way or another. All this speculation has become somewhat of a private joke for Spiller and his mom.

One day, there are stories claiming that Florida State has taken the lead for the 5-11, 184-pounder who has turned in a 4.35 40-yard dash. The next day there is speculation that he's solid for Florida. Miami gets mentioned a lot and lately there has been a lot of talk about Auburn. It is all speculation. In reality, Spiller will tell you that there are only three people who even have an idea which schools have a legitimate shot at landing him.

"Some people think I'm going to this school or I'm leaning somewhere but my mom and I are the only ones who know for sure," said Spiller Thursday evening. "Well, my mom and me and God."

All the top schools in Division I are clamoring for his undivided attention but the ones that have earned his respect are the ones that respect his privacy and his commitment to his Christian faith. The top schools on his list have learned to give him his space. His mother doesn't have it quite that easy.

      "Some people think I'm going to this school or I'm leaning somewhere but my mom and I are the only ones who know for sure. Well, my mom and me and God." -- C.J. Spiller

"For her, it's everywhere she goes," he said. "My mom takes a lot of heat because people are always asking her where I'm going. My sister catches a lot of it, too. My brother is in the Army in North Carolina so he doesn't hear it every day, just whenever he goes on the internet. My mom's handling it well, though. So far she hasn't gotten too stressed out about it."

The top schools on his list not only have learned to respect his space, but they've learned that CJ Spiller doesn't just talk a good game when it comes to Christian faith, he lives it every day in every phase of his life. If you want two words that best describe this introspective young man, they are commitment and consistency.

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Commitment begins with his first priority in life, which is to live a life that reflects the Christian faith and values that have become so much a part of his life that they are instinctive. Some athletes point to heaven when they score a touchdown and say "Praise the Lord" but that's the only indication that God has a part of their lives. Even though he's just a young man about to begin his senior year in high school, CJ Spiller has a keen awareness that wherever he goes he is under the microscope.

"God blessed me with so much talent and it's all about what I do with it," he said. "Am I going to use it just for me or am I going to give God all the credit and let others see what happens when you live your life for God? And I can't just talk about it. What good does it do me to talk about it if I'm not going to live it?"

Lake Butler, Florida is as small town as it gets. The only industry in town of consequence is the state prison which gets far more publicity than locals would like. The publicity that the locals appreciate most is anything that reflects positively on the Union County Tigers. In CJ Spiller, the locals have found a young man whose commitment to being the best in everything he attempts is a source of tremendous pride.

Not only do they see him stand out on the football field, where he gained 1,415 yards and averaged 11.6 yards per carry as a junior, but they see how the hard work in the classroom has paid off. The young man who says "I love English and literature … I just can't get enough of it" has worked hard to build up a 3.5 grade point average. While other athletes will be struggling to get their grades up or get one more point on a standardized test, Spiller is already fully qualified.

The locals also see the caring young man who always has time for the kids who adore him. They see his dedication to being the best on the football field in the way he trains in the offseason. He says "the worst thing that can happen in football is that you take a play off" so he trains hard, making it a point to run the extra sprint even when his ankles feel they are made out of lead. When he's lifting weights, it is when his tendons feel like a welder's torch is burning a hole in them that he knows he must push a little harder.

It isn't just the commitment that is the important reflection, it is the consistency. He says that "you have to be consistent or people will see right through you."

He tries to maintain the consistency in the way he treats the younger players on the Union County football team. Just because he is everybody's All-American for the 2005 season doesn't mean that he feels he is better than the youngest and most inexperienced player on the team. If anything, being the star player on a high school team that is loaded with talented players who will sign scholarships on National Signing Day makes him more determined to set the standard for every one of his teammates.

"If I slack off, they'll see it and think that it's okay for them to do it, too," he said. "I work hard now to make it easy when I'm playing on Friday night. I want to make all the things I do in practice just a natural thing to do during a game. I take great pride in being prepared and being able to play 100 percent in the fourth quarter just like I played 100 percent in the first quarter. I can't take a play off and I can't take a practice off or a workout off."

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When people see C.J. Spiller, he wants them to see someone who has God first. Yes, he can turn 40 yards in 4.35 seconds or less. Yes, he can make linebackers look silly when his hips seem to go one way and his feet the other. And yes, he can accelerate back to full stride two steps after making a cut. He will tell you that all these things that people see him doing on the playing field are nothing more than a reflection of God's blessings and his commitment to being the best he can be.

      "What I do in football is purely God's blessings. I don't deserve the credit but God does. I want people to see that I work hard to do the best with what God's given me." -- C.J. Spiller

"What I do in football is purely God's blessings," he said. "I don't deserve the credit but God does. I want people to see that I work hard to do the best with what God's given me."

When he thinks about where he will go to school next year, he looks at things like how many players on the team are members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, how many of them go to church on Sunday, and he looks at where God stands in the lives of the head coaches. These things will have more than a small influence on his final decision.

He says that he is quite impressed that the coaches of Florida's Big Three --- Florida, Florida State and Miami --- all make God a top priority in their lives.

BOBBY BOWDEN (FSU): "I know that Coach Bowden makes God first and you can tell that when you talk to him. A lot of their players tell me how he's always checking in on them, making sure that they're going to church. I think you can look at his personal life and know that he has real Christian faith."

LARRY COKER (Miami): "I had a chance to talk with Coach Larry, the first thing I told him was if God leads me to the University of Miami it will be because there is a church near there that will be a big part of my life. I was impressed with how many of their guys are serious about being in church on Sundays and I know that Coach Larry's in church every Sunday, too."

URBAN MEYER (Florida): "Every time I see him from the very first time we met, he's asking about how I'm living my life and what's going on in my spiritual life? I like that consistency in him. I know that God has first place in his life and in his family. I like that he wants his guys in Sunday Bible study."

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He dreams of winning a state championship in 2005. His commitment to Coach Buddy Nobles and his teammates is that "I won't take even one play off because if people think I'm the greatest All-American in the world but I take a play off, I've let my team down."

He also dreams of a chance to play in the US Army All-American Game in San Antonio (sponsored by, center stage in January for every top high school player in the country.

"That's the only game (post high school season) that I want to play in," he said. "If you're in that game, it means you're one of the best. My first goal is to help my team win a state championship, but my personal goal after that is to play in the Army game."

When he is alone at night in the privacy of his room, he spends time reading his Bible, his source of wisdom and strength. There he also takes time to write in his journal, an every day recollection of the day's events. One day when football is in the past, he dreams to be a writer. He also dreams of playing college football. He knows that the rumors will continue to fly and speculation will mount every day that he hasn't made a commitment to one school or another, but there in the privacy of his room where he is relaxed and the quiet allows him to reflect on all that he holds dear, he and God talk about that next step.

"When I do make my final choice it's going to be after I've prayed about it and I know that's where God has led me," he said.

But until the day comes when he has that peace in his heart, it will all be speculation.

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