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October 25, 2006

Spiller makes Spence's job easier at Clemson

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The Porsche 911 turbo can go from 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds.

The car's acceleration is only slightly faster than Clemson true freshman running back C.J. Spiller.

The speedster out of Lake Butler (Fla.) Union County High school added to an already growing legacy in the Tigers' surprising rout of Georgia Tech on Saturday. Spiller scored on a 50-yard run and a 50-yard reception to help propel Clemson to a 31-7 triumph and earn the honor as the Rivals.com National Freshman of the Week.

He made the job of offensive coordinator easier for Rob Spence. Clemson's OC is the Rivals.com National Coordinator of the Week after his unit rang up 426 total yards on the Yellow Jackets, including 321 on the ground. The Tigers become the first team this season to sweep our awards.

Spiller finished with 116 yards on 16 carries. He and teammate James Davis were just the second and third backs to top the 100-yard mark against the Yellow Jackets.

Speaking of jackets, watching film of Spiller makes opposing coaches contemplate getting fitted for the strait variety. He has four touchdowns this season that have covered 50 yards or more. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in three of the Tigers' past four games. His per-carry average is 6.8 yards, second only to teammate James Davis in the ACC among players who have carried more than 20 times.

"I think my speed comes from my uncle," Spiller told Rivals.com. "He was a great athlete. My mom told me a lot of stories about him.

"I think about him every time I step on the field. I kind of play for him and my grandma."

The uncle was Clarence Brown, who also played football at Union County. He was killed in 1987 during his senior year, stabbed by the former boyfriend of the girl he was dating.

The grandma was Nettie Pearl Allen, who died in 2000. She was always there for Spiller, going to all of his games. She often watched Spiller while his mother was working.

Everyone who watched marveled at Spiller's speed, and they still do. And it's not just the fact he's fast. He has what coaches and players call "burst." No one, it seems, gets from standing still in the backfield to sprinting into the secondary quite like Spiller.

"He has a different gear than I've ever seen on a football field," Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic coach Kerwin Bell said. "He can go from start to full speed in the blink of an eye."

Bell has seen a lot of football, and he has seen a lot of Spiller. A former University of Florida quarterback who spent eight years in pro football across the World League, Canadian Football League and the NFL, Bell's Trinity Catholic squad played Spiller's Union County team twice last year. The Celtics won both meetings, including eliminating the Tigers in the state playoffs.

"I'm telling you I was pure petrified every time they gave him the ball," Bell said. "Any time you know he could break a big one. There were a few times he'd get it with a little room and I'd just say, 'Here it goes.' But we'd trip him up or get him down somehow.

"People don't realize what kind of job we did on him for two games in a row. We played them in the ninth game of the season, then he went out for that game at Rutherford. Then we came back and held him again."

Ah, yes, that game at Rutherford. Just read the stat line: 11 carries, 352 yards, five touchdowns. He might was well have been driving a Porsche. All the Rutherford players could see was the taillights.

"I've had a couple of people tell me about my burst, and I've seen it on film," Spiller said. "I make a couple of moves, hit the line and get back to full speed.

"You have to do that, especially at this level. Linebackers and even defensive linemen are faster in college."

If a defensive lineman ever catches Spiller there should be an inquiry. If possible, he has gained more speed at Clemson, and he has added muscle in the strength and conditioning program.

"I think I've gotten a whole lot stronger since I arrived on campus," Spiller said. "I think my upper body is a lot stronger."

Spiller said he didn't believe he'd have this kind of impact this early. He's a lock for ACC Freshman of the Year, with 523 rushing yards, 184 receiving yards and nine touchdowns through just eight games.

Developing trend?
C.J. Spiller is the third consecutive Rivals.com National Freshman of the Week to hail from the Jacksonville, Fla., area. He attended Lake Butler Union County High School. Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis of Jacksonville Mandarin won the honor last week, and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow of Ponte Vedra Beach Nease started the trend on Oct. 11.
"I thought I'd come in, maybe make a couple of plays, get familiar with the offense," Spiller said. "I've learned to be patient more, wait for holes to open up."

Spiller was quick to credit the Clemson offensive line for much of his success. He described his 50-yard TD jaunt against the Yellow Jackets thusly: "They did a great job up front, and I saw the safety roll down and made him miss and didn't see anyone after that except the fans."

Spiller was reminded that he probably doesn't see anyone very often when he turns the corner.

Maybe Clemson can put a rearview mirror on his shoulder pads.

Other freshmen considered for Rivals.com's national honor were:

Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill, who had 29 carries for 161 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-3 victory at Purdue.

Virginia defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald, who had seven tackles and a sack in a 23-0 victory over North Carolina.

Spence narrowly beat Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning for his award. Not only did the Tigers hold the Yellow Jackets to seven points, but Tech All-American wide receiver Calvin Johnson did not catch a single pass for the first time in his three-year career.

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