CJ Spiller’s experience as Clemson’s rookie shapes his coaching role

CLEMSON – What better guy to sit in the living room of a coveted football rookie explaining to the young man and his family the virtues of Clemson as one of the greatest and most beloved players in the history of the program .

Former running back CJ Spiller forged one of the most impressive careers with the Tigers before making millions in the NFL as the 9th overall pick in 2010. He has long been a popular speaker addressing rallies community and church groups while continuing to be one of Clemson’s most admired ambassadors.

“For this young man to go sit in front of his parents and talk about his experience, especially coaching to his alma mater, that’s a big deal right there,” said the cornerbacks coach of Clemson, Mike Reed, on Tuesday media day inside the football operations building. . “Sign me up if he comes to my house to recruit me.” “

Clemson running back Will Shipley (1) listens to running back coach CJ Spiller during football practice on March 5.

Spiller, 33, is back full time with the program after becoming the running backs coach earlier this year. His eight-year NFL career ended in 2017 before returning to Clemson as an unpaid graduate assistant last season. His number 28 jersey was retired just a year after leaving the program, although he graciously allowed former Spartanburg star Tavien Feaster to wear the numbers for his three seasons with the Tigers. Spiller is expected to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December.

He described his first time starting the entire player recruiting process as “fun to be able to be on par with different coaches and just let them get to know me.” Obviously they know me as a player, but now they know me as a player. nobody. Same thing with the recruits. A lot of these guys are trying to age me, like, ‘I played with you on NCAA, I played with you on Madden (video games).’ “

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Dabo Swinney didn’t become Clemson’s interim head coach until the middle of Spiller’s junior year, but was his main recruiter and catalyst in persuading Spiller to become one of the few highly coveted five-star players. to choose Clemson.

Swinney has long viewed Spiller’s decision as the first major building block of a foundation that led to the transformation of the program from midfield to national center.

Defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Todd Bates said of Spiller’s return: “I know he must be thrilled because he was the first five-star to believe in Coach Swinney. and he’s done a hell of a job since coming back here. Being able to not only go out and recruit and tell a guy what you’re going to teach him, but you also did it in this same place. The passion and the reality that he is. brings are incomparable. “

Clemson running backs coach CJ Spiller, left, and Clemson cornering backs coach Mike Reed during football practice in Clemson, SC on Friday March 5, 2021.

Swinney said Spiller took on his freshman role “like a fish in water. It’s just a natural. It’s just awesome.”

Despite one of the country’s most talented and sought-after candidates coming on repeat 15 years ago, now found himself across the aisle, trying to persuade others with abilities and similar dreams of attending his alma mater, Spiller does little to contemplate the notion.

“I’m thinking about what I can do to get them to believe in our program,” Spiller said. “The most important thing here is to have guys on campus. I have a great understanding of the foundation given that I did it and went through the whole process. I understand that recruiting has changed since I got out of high school, so I’m able to adjust to that, but ultimately it’s about being yourself. “

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney laughs with running backs coach CJ Spiller during a soccer practice in Clemson, SC on Friday March 5, 2021.

Going through his own recruiting process became Spiller’s first introduction to a wider world beyond his hometown of Lake Butler, Fla., Which had just 1,897 residents at the 2010 census, the year after he graduated from college.

He was courted by several of the country’s top programs, including Southern Cal on his first visit to California where he spent time with coach Pete Carroll and watched running back Reggie Bush, Heisman Trophy winner, play in the team house at the Rose Bowl.

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He also visited college towns such as the Gainesville campus in Florida and the new trainer Urban Meyer (just 35 miles from Lake Butler) and the location of Tallahassee in Florida State (140 miles) where the legendary Bobby Bowden was in charge.

“All of the tours were very unique,” ​​said Spiller. “It was a great opportunity for me to get out of state. I went to Southern Cal and got to watch Reggie play against Fresno State. You hear the stories about Hollywood, and that lived up to the hype. Then when you come here to Clemson: it’s more of a family atmosphere, a tight-knit community, and it reminded me so much of Lake Butler.

“I tell the story all the time (Clemson) was honestly the only visit where I called my mom and told her this was a place I could come and spend three or four years. That says a lot about this. place. That’s why it’s so special, because it’s so different from any other place. You can come here and just be yourself and people will treat you like family, and that’s what you want.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney helped recruit five-star running back CJ Spiller into the recruiting class of 2006.

“I knew what I was looking for in my school during my process. I don’t expect guys to look for the same things I was looking for as a high school graduate, and I have to be prepared to accept that. But I can still do a great job selling our program. I’ve been through it, I’ve been through it, and guys are able to relate to that. Guys just want you to be genuine with them. I don’t. Don’t wanna blow smoke. I wanna be real with you because my name means a lot to me, this school means a lot to me and my character means a lot. “

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Paul Cox

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