Clemson University

Spiller's father to see son play for first time

CLEMSON - Clifford Spiller plans on wearing his orange No. 28 Clemson jersey this weekend despite the grief he's catching from friends who are fans of south Florida's home team.

This opportunity hasn't come along before.

He will be attending the first Clemson game of his star son C.J. Spiller's football career Saturday at No. 8 Miami, and he plans on reciprocating the support Clifford Jr. - C.J. for short - has shown in building their distant relationship.

"This is going to be special for me," Clifford said.

The father contends their story is just another example of Spiller's maturity.

Spiller was raised in tiny, rural Lake Butler, Fla., along with two siblings by his mother, Patricia Watkins, and his stepfather.

Some 375 miles south, the 44-year-old Clifford has driven sanitation trucks for Dade County for 20 years. He is engaged and has two daughters, one by a previous marriage.

Watkins and Clifford met while participating in the government-sponsored Job Corps training program, and C.J. was born shortly thereafter in 1987.

Clifford said he tried talking Watkins into moving with him to Miami, but given her family roots in Union County, she declined, and they broke up.

C.J. said Clifford stayed in touch and made the six-hour drive north occasionally to visit, but he viewed his father more as a distant relative.

That changed during Spiller's junior year of high school, when he felt compelled to reach out and connect further with his namesake.

"Growing up with a faith background, you're supposed to honor your mother and father," Spiller said. "And I wanted to get to know him and know what he was about.

"Unfortunately some guys go through life never knowing their father. I didn't want to be that guy."

Clifford thinks Spiller inherited his looks, if little else. Clifford is 6-foot-2 - three inches taller than Spiller - and while he played cornerback and receiver in high school, he hardly possessed Spiller's blazing speed.

Spiller has always been told he inherited his athletic prowess from Watkins' late brother, Clarence Brown, a local football legend who was stabbed to death during Brown's senior year of high school, just months after Spiller's birth.

Clifford attended Spiller's high school graduation as well as the ACC track championships at Miami in April. He is also slated to come to Clemson for the first time for the Nov. 7 game against Florida State - Spiller's next-to-last home game.

Spiller said when he first extended the olive branch six years ago, he wasn't worried Clifford's intentions might become motivated by Spiller's potential future riches.

The two now converse on a weekly basis, and Spiller has invited Clifford to the team hotel Friday night.

"You know how some kids talk to adults, and they like to talk back," Clifford said. "He never seems to act like that, and I'm so proud of the man he's become.

"He's showed me a lot of respect. There's a lot to love about him."

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