There’s something about those you can point to and say, it all began with him,
CJ Spiller just might be that guy. He was one of the first to show the qualities intended by Dabo Swinney’s All In mantra at Clemson. One cannot minimize just what that meant, and still means, to Clemson’s current success.
On the day he signed his letter intent with the Tigers, he shocked everybody, including mother, Patrica Watson. Most assumed he’d stay near home and choose Florida. Then Swinney, the receivers coach at the time, felt as Spiller’s main recruiter, he was heading to Clemson.
“In this business, this is as big as it gets,” Swinney said. “When you get the No. 1 running back in the nation, you can take your program to another level.”
Swinney’s words proved prophetic.
Spiller was part of the running back dynamic duo known as Thunder and Lightning with James Davis. Tommy Bowden, former head coach, said in a postgame interview “if the thunder don’t get you, the lightning will.” He was so right. They were indeed a dynamic duo.
While Spiller’s choosing Clemson was a monumental boost for the program, it was really his other commitment that was special to Swinney. Spiller could have moved on to the NFL after the 2008 season but there was someone that still needed him. Swinney.
As we all know, Swinney assumed the interim head coaching position when Bowden and Clemson parted ways during the 2008 season. If Swinney ever needed help in securing the permanent gig, he needed something big to go his way. Spiller was that something big. Really big.
In a huge show of admiration and loyalty, Spiller made, then AD Terry Don Phillips, an offer that he couldn’t refuse. Spiller would be more inclined to return for his senior season IF Swinney was hired as permanent head coach. Everything fell into place. The rest, as they say, is history.
Spiller was selected 9th overall in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. He was the highest drafted Clemson player since Banks McFadden,(1940) and Gaines Adams (2007), both of whom went fourth overall. He also had stints with the New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets.
It’s a wonderful thing to see something, or some people, come full circle. After his NFL career came to an end, his internal compass led him back to Clemson. He started as a volunteer graduate assistant and then in 2021, he was named running backs coach. Based on just a small sample size , he’s got a new “Thunder and Lightning” combo in the backfield.
With Kobe Pace, Will Shipley and Phil Mafah, Spiller might have the best running back room at Clemson in the last 15 years. You know, back when Spiller and Davis owned the backfield.
Yes, there’s got to be a first believer and for Swinney that is CJ Spiller. He couldn’t have a better ‘first.’
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