Nov. 6, 2009
Life is all about choices. When it is fourth-and-inches near the goal line, the choice is to kick a field goal or try to score a touchdown. On gameday, the choice is to root for the underdog or root for the undefeated. Choices can be simple or complex. Ultimately, decisions we make are determined by how we feel.
When C.J. Spiller had to make the choice of foregoing his senior season to enter the 2009 NFL draft or to suit up for the Tigers one more time, he simply chose the path he felt was right.
Last January, Tiger fans were elated to hear that Spiller, one of Clemson’s most dynamic players in history, would pass up the chance to enter the draft early and come back for his senior season.
Other famous running backs, such as LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers and Thomas Jones of the New York Jets, came back for record-setting senior seasons at Texas Christian and Virginia, respectively. Both players are currently enjoying successful professional football careers and both have been Pro Bowl selections. Spiller already has had a record-setting career with the Tigers and is on his way to becoming a great, like Tomlinson and Jones.
“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,” said Spiller. “After thinking about it, I felt that the best thing for me to do was to stay at Clemson for my senior year.
“There was and still is so much I want to accomplish at Clemson. I didn’t want to leave and look back saying, `what if?’ I couldn’t leave here with any regrets. Despite different opinions, I knew it was my decision and I knew that I wanted to do what felt right to me, and staying here felt right.”
Coming into his senior season, Spiller had already accomplished many feats. He has been a record-setting, multi-dimensional player as a running back, receiver, and kick returner. He also excels in the classroom. He was a First-Team Academic All-ACC selection in 2008 after making the Dean’s List in the fall semester. He also became the first Tiger running back named All-ACC on the field and in the classroom in the same semester.
“Education is a major part of my life,” added Spiller. “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 that I will always cherish.”
Spiller needs just 12 hours this semester to earn his degree in December, quite an accomplishment considering he will have been at Clemson just three-and-a-half years.
The offense has seen a lot of new faces during Spiller’s time at Clemson. The heralded “Thunder & Lightning” tandem that featured James Davis and Spiller is now missing its “Thunder” due to the graduation of Davis. So what is “Lightning” without the “Thunder?” Tiger fans would soon find out.
All doubters of Spiller’s decision to return to Clemson were silenced on the opening kickoff of the season against Middle Tennessee, as he raced 96 yards for a touchdown. He became the first Tiger to return the opening kickoff of the season for a score.
“That was a great moment,” said #28. “My teammates should also be recognized for that touchdown, because without them blocking I wouldn’t have gotten into the endzone. Special teams plays like that are essential for us to win games.”
In the heartbreaking loss at #13 Georgia Tech earlier this season, Spiller rushed for 87 yards and caught four passes for 69 yards and a score. After the setback, he came back with a bang against Boston College the following week, setting even more records.
During that game versus the Eagles, he became the first Tiger in history to have a 100-yard game in each of the categories of rushing, receiving, punt returns, and kickoff returns over the course of his career. He had his first career punt return for a touchdown, making him the first Tiger to account for a touchdown in five different ways (run, pass, reception, punt return, kickoff return).
The following week against #14 Texas Christian, Spiller became the second player in college football history to accumulate 2,500 rushing yards, 1,000 receiving yards, 1,500 yards on kickoff returns, and 500 yards on punt returns, joining former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush of Southern California.
On the road against Maryland, Spiller became the ACC’s career all-purpose yardage leader. Even though the Tigers suffered back-to-back losses, Spiller was still giving it his all to help out his team.
In the home rout of Wake Forest, Spiller became the first ACC player in history to go over 6,000 career all-purpose yards.
“The Wake Forest game will always stand out,” recalled Spiller. “Everything finally clicked in that game. We were playing as a team and executed in every phase. I credit the great effort of the offensive linemen for their blocks that allowed me to get over 6,000 career yards.”
As a Lake Butler, FL prodigy, Spiller soon had a warm homecoming in Florida when the Tigers suited up against #8 Miami. Spiller helped lead the Tigers to an exciting 40-37 overtime win. In the game, he had a school-record 310 all-purpose yards. He also became the ACC’s career leader in kickoff returns for touchdowns. He had a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the sixth kickoff return for a score in his career. That tied the all-time NCAA record as well.
“That was a great game and a great win against a top-10 ranked team,” said Spiller. “As a team, everything is falling into place. We are playing smart, and I believe that will only get better from week to week.”
Spiller has been a composed leader through the ups and downs of 2009. When the season comes to an end, he will leave with no regrets.
“I want to give my all in every game, like I’m playing my last. When the season comes to a close, I want to look back and know that I have given my all. A huge part of my life has been experienced here at Clemson. I take pride in the school. It is going to be the school where I have my degree. The fan support, the traditions, my teammates, and my coaches have made my Clemson experience worthwhile.”
In the future, he will not only be remembered for his exceptional football talents, but also for his character. When he decided to return for his senior season, he based it on what he felt was right in his heart.
With most choices in life that people make, the outcome is unknown until they experience it. C.J. Spiller is experiencing his decision at this very moment, and the outcome is looking brighter and brighter every day.
Brittney Earle, a senior from Easley, SC, is a student assistant in the Clemson Sports Information Office.
Spiller’s Tiger Records Game receptions by a running back (7) Game all-purpose yards (310) Season yards per carry (7.3) Season receiving yards by a running back (436) Season kickoff returns for a touchdown (3) Season 50-yard touchdowns (7) Career receptions by a running back (105) Career receiving yards by a running back (1,184) Career receiving touchdowns by a running back (9) Career kickoff returns for a touchdown (*6) Career kick returns for a touchdown (7) Career all-purpose yards (6,390) Career all-purpose yards per game (138.9) Career 50-yard touchdowns (19) Career 80-yard touchdowns (9) Career 200 all-purpose yard games (6) Consecutive games with a 60-yard play (7) Consecutive 200-yard all-purpose games (3) Different ways accounting for a touchdown (5) Different ways with a 100-yard game (4)
* – NCAA record
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