Spiller: "It's All Back To Wide Open"

In Lake Butler, Florida, C.J. Spiller is a big deal. In this small town where Union County football is king, when you make the US Army All-American team you're a very big deal. But even with all the awards and notoriety, in this small town he's just C.J., the same quiet kid with the big smile that everybody in the community has known since he was just a little guy playing Pop Warner football.

(C.J. Spiller profile)

When Spiller came to the University of Florida for his official visit this weekend, he thought it wouldn't be all that different than the times he's visited unofficially. Gainesville is just 20 miles down the road and he's been on the Florida campus more times than he can recall. He thought nobody other than Florida football players and coaches would recognize him but that perception changed very quickly Friday evening when some students came up to the five-star running back and asked for his autograph.

"That's never happened to me before," said Spiller, who was also caught by surprise Saturday night when the Rowdy Reptiles at the Florida-Auburn basketball game started chanting his name and making the sellout crowd of 12,000 aware of his presence. When the chants became so loud early in the second half, Spiller sent the student section into a frenzy when he responded with several Gator chomps.

"That was something totally new for me," said the 5-10, 185-pounder with the 4.28 speed in the 40-yard dash. "I knew the coaches and football team wanted me at Florida. I didn't know all the students knew who I am. It's pretty exciting to be in a big crowd like that and have people calling out your name and stuff like that."

Spiller spent a good portion of the weekend hanging around with his buddy Tim Tebow, the five-star quarterback from Ponte Vedra Beach Nease, who enrolled at Florida earlier in the week. Spiller and Tebow were teammates on the Florida team in the CaliFlorida Bowl and for the East team at the US Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.

During the second half of the basekteball game, Tebow and Spiller left their seats to mingle with the crowd, especially the students. Once again, Spiller was totally unprepared for the reception they got.

"It's one of the most exciting things that's ever happened to me," he said. "People were coming up to Tebow and me just to shake our hands and talk to us. They kept telling me they want me to be a Gator."

C.J. Spiller at the US Army All-American Bowl

He has become close friends with Tebow, whom he calls a total competitor on the field and a fun-loving guy off the field.

"People see him on the football field and they see how fired up he gets but off the field he's totally different," said Spiller. "He's a guy you like to hang around with and have fun with. He makes me laugh a lot. I don't think people know it but he's really a funny guy."

During the visit Spiller got more one-on-one time with Florida Coach Urban Meyer than he's ever gotten before and he got a chance to talk academics with Florida's support staff, including Dr. Keith Carodine.

"Coach Meyer is fun to hang around with," said Spiller. "We talked a lot about football, academics, life … all those things. I like him a lot as a football coach and as a person. I think he is a great coach who has the Florida program going in the right direction.

"He's getting the guys he needs to come to Florida to build the program the way he wants it. He's got a plan to build the team and he has a plan to help each player be a better football player and a better person."

Spiller had visited Florida several times on unofficial visits but this was the first chance he had to spend quality time with the academic support staff.

"They do a presentation about academics that's very impressive," he said. "They look out for the players. They plan it out so you can succeed in your classes. I like what they do."

His mother accompanied him on the visit. She did not fly with him to Clemson Sunday afternoon (he's accompanying his longtime friend and teammate Kevin Alexander on an official visit) but she will go with him on his official visits to Miami and Florida State.

"She was very impressed with Coach Meyer, the academics and all the people she met," he said. "I think Florida treated her very nice. She will go with me on the trips I'm taking and then we'll sit down together and talk about it to make a choice. She says it's my choice but she's going to have a lot to say about it."

Earlier in the week, Spiller had told the Gainesville Sun that Florida State was definitely the team to beat but after his Florida visit things have changed somewhat.

"It's all back to even," said Spiller, who has Florida, FSU, Miami and Southern Cal on his list. "I would have to say it's all back to wide open. After I come back from Clemson we might be even able to tell who will be the school."

He will be visiting Florida State on the weekend (January 27) the Seminoles hold their annual football banquet. Plenty of prospects over the years have been swayed to make their commitment to FSU on that weekend.

"Everybody keeps telling me all about the banquet but I'm looking right through it," he said. "I'm not going to get caught up in it and let one night change my mind. There are plenty of things to think about. It will be fun to meet some of the players who come back for it [the banquet] but no, that's not going to help me decide one way or the other."

He will be scheduling the final in-home visits once he gets back from Clemson and said that he really doesn't know what order it will be or that it really matters who goes first and who goes last.

"They'll all get a fair chance," he said. "And once they've all visited, we'll make the choice. I wouldn't say it matters who gets in the last visit. They'll all have a fair chance."

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