By Ross Jones, FOXSports.com
It’s not hard to figure out why C.J. Spiller often gets overlooked. The man plays in Buffalo, splits carries with another running back and the franchise hasn’t had a winning season in nearly a decade. To think that not having the spotlight irks Spiller would be a misconception.
When he was making his decision on what college to attend, NBC wanted to showcase the blue-chip talent’s commitment during their annual telecast of the US Army All-American Bowl. Spiller passed. Instead, he wanted to announce the decision in front of his hometown crowd – the one who would support Union County (Lake Butler, Fla.) prospect every Friday night.
“That’s a man of character right there,” Spiller’s high school coach Buddy Nobles told FOXSports.com in a telephone interview. “He could’ve [made his commitment] in front of thousands of people on TV, but he said, ‘I’m going to do it right here in front of 800 or 900 people right here in the gym.’”
When Spiller arrived on Union County’s campus his freshman season, he wasn’t alone. He was joined with two other players —Kevin Alexander and Kasey Nobles, Buddy’s son — who would play with him at Clemson. All three would get called up to the varsity squad following an impressive debut on the JV team. Two weeks later, Spiller was in the backfield making plays.
“I wasn’t stupid so I let him get his feet wet,” said Nobles, who has known Spiller since the lad was 5-years old. “It was time to start giving him the football.”
Although the team finished 2-8 that season, Spiller showed a “spark” that would separate him from the competition. In the offseason, he would hone his craft by running track, something that came naturally to Spiller.
So, when did Spiller become a superstar? His coach can pinpoint the running back’s breakout game.
“We were playing Perry Taylor High School. And they were huge. They were more physical than us and they were two or three years older than us, too. He ran for close to 200 yards and had like 3 TDs. I saw him pull away from a couple of older kids and I said to myself, ‘That kid has got something.’”
He would run for nearly 1,300 yards that season and lead his team to the Florida state championship game, where they would fall short against Pahokee High School. But, his performance was enough to trigger interest from major Division-I schools.
While participating in spring football, an assistant coach from Florida State came to visit. Once he watched Spiller catch a couple of punts in practice, they told his coach that they would offer him on the spot. And they did.
Over the next couple seasons, Spiller would become a household name as every scouting website had him ranked amongst the elite at his position. His coach could anticipate the attention and remembers preparing his running back for the swarm of media attention.
“I told him, ‘CJ, it’s really going to take off.’ You could just tell he had another [dimension to his game]. People could not catch him. He could do it all”
Spiller would go on to be courted by nearly every major school in the country before he finally narrowed it down to five schools (Florida State, Clemson, USC, Florida and Miami).
“Remember the night Reggie Bush went off against Fresno State,” Nobles said. “CJ, had his official visit at Southern Cal at that time.”
The running back was fascinated by the visit. Nobles remembers Spiller coming back to Lake Butler telling him that it was “awesome” and he got to meet Pete Carroll and Lane Kiffin. But something didn’t feel right. It wasn’t enough.
Spiller didn’t seek the SoCal spotlight that burns so bright. He decided to go to Clemson where he told his coach it reminded him of Lake Butler with a college.
When Spiller made his announcement in his high school gymnasium, it was perfect. It may have been an alternative option for a five-star talent, but that was just fine with Spiller.
So, while Spiller might be quietly getting the job done up in Buffalo, don’t think he’s angry about not being in the spotlight. However, don’t be surprised if he breaks out in a major way this season. He’ll let his legs do the talking.
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