Spiller stands alone as decade's top Tiger

His records, his game speak volumes

Special to The StateDecember 22, 2009 

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Clemson running back C.J. Spiller

RICH GLICKSTEIN/RGLICKSTEIN@THESTATE.COM

C.J. Spiller's achievements on the football field require no embellishment. The records - three NCAA, four ACC and 31 school marks - set by Clemson's player of the decade (2000-09) speak eloquently.

That his records scream of his excellence is a good thing for those who would want to become better acquainted with the lightning bolt who wears No. 28. He does not sing hymns to himself.

If he is reticent to get caught up in the hoopla, others are not, and their comments tell his story so well:

"Spiller is unique in his overall skill set. He is clearly a dynamic, hard-to-get-on-the-ground runner. His kick return record speaks for itself. ... He is a true all-purpose threat, maybe as great as we've seen in this (Atlantic Coast) conference for a long time." - former Virginia coach Al Groh

"He's the most explosive player in college football." - Tony Barnhart, CSTV

"He might be the most dangerous player in the country." - Retiring Florida State coach Bobby Bowden

"... You hardly heard his name mentioned in Heisman Trophy conversations yet. Disgraceful. ..." - Edwin Pope, Miami Herald

"If you're going for the best offensive player in college, Spiller catches, runs and returns. ... Spiller's numbers have superseded everybody." - Mel Kiper, ESPN

Those comments testify to his ability, and the numbers do not exaggerate. Spiller and former Southern California star Reggie Bush are the only college players to accumulate more than 3,000 yards rushing, 1,000 yards receiving, 1,500 yards on kickoff return and 500 yards on punt returns in their careers.

Just think; what would his 2009 statistic be if coach Dabo Swinney had not restricted his playing time in runaway victories against Football Championship Subdivision opponents?

Imagine the career possibilities if he had not shared the spotlight with teammate James Davis for three seasons or if his offensive coordinator had taken full advantage of his skills during his first three years?

Spiller came to Clemson highly touted, and he did not disappoint. He developed from a raw talent into a complete player and could have spent 2009 in the pros. Projected to be a high choice in the NFL draft, he could have left college after his junior year, but he returned and his stock zoomed even higher.

"When I had to make the decision, I took a lot of time to think about it and I prayed about what was best for me," Spiller said. "After thinking about it, I felt the best thing was to stay at Clemson for my senior year. ... I didn't want to look back saying, 'What if?' I didn't want to leave with any regrets ... and staying here felt right."

In addition to littering the record books with his achievements, Spiller made the Dean's List and Academic All-ACC team and earned his degree in three and a half years.

"Education is a major part of my life," he said. "You come to college to get a degree, and I'm going to be proud to leave Clemson knowing I have a degree. My education is an accomplishment in my life I will always cherish."

Spiller's kickoff return skills convinced most opponents to use squib kicks. Considering he returned four of the 21 returns for touchdowns this season, the strategy is sound. But the Tigers' average starting spot after kickoffs was the 38-yard-line, 14 yards better than their opponents.

"College football's version of the intentional walk," quips Tim Bourret, Clemson's sports information director.

Clemson created a life-size poster of Spiller prior to the season, and the school bought expensive national advertising late in the year to tout his accomplishment to Heisman Trophy voters. But his performances, highlighted by three games with 300-plus yards of all-purpose yardage, earned him only sixth place in the balloting.

He wanted to go to New York for the Heisman ceremonies, he said, but personal satisfaction took a back seat to another reason.

"It would have been great for this football program and for Clemson University in general," he told reporters after hearing that he did not make the top five. He thanked his teammates and especially his offensive linemen and added, "But I have done the best I could in every game. I have no regrets."

His best play? There are too many to choose, but his turning a routine swing pass into a 50-yard touchdown against Georgia Tech his freshman year always will be special. Facing two defenders after catching the pass, he faked them out of their shoes and raced for the game-breaking score.

Remember that one. Remember others. And remember C.J. Spiller. His kind are so rare.

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