Spiller for Heisman starts now

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C.J. Spiller announced Thursday afternoon that he will return for his senior season at Clemson. (Photos: fotoman)
C.J. Spiller announced Thursday afternoon that he will return for his senior season at Clemson. (Photos: fotoman)

CLEMSON – The deluge of sound that you just heard coming out of Clemson was Dabo Swinney and Clemson Nation breathing one huge sigh of relief.

The Spiller for Heisman campaign has officially begun, because multi-talented junior running back C.J. Spiller announced Thursday afternoon that he was forsaking the dollars of the NFL to return for his senior season at Clemson, making him the centerpiece of the offense in what will be Swinney’s first full season as head coach.

Spiller began the conference by announcing how difficult the process had been for him, and then he made the announcement Tiger fans had been waiting for, saying he would return for his senior season amidst thunderous applause from inside the McFadden Team Room.

"I had to do what's best for me," Spiller said. "That was being at Clemson. Something just didn’t feel right about me leaving. A lot of guys start things they really never finish, and I really don’t want to be labeled as one of those guys.

“ I do have aspirations of playing in the NFL. But right now, I really feel like I bring a lot of leadership to this team. It’s not all about playing in the NFL. It’s about doing what’s right and what’s in your heart.”

Spiller was projected as a second round pick in the draft, but many experts felt that putting his skills on display at the NFL Combine, held February 20th to the 26th in Indianapolis, would vault his draft stock, possibly into first round territory. The junior from Lake Butler, Fla., took the decision to the wire, with the NFL deadline at midnight tonight, but Spiller said he wanted to weigh all the factors before coming to a decision.

“I spoke with a lot of people about this decision and took my time in evaluating all the factors, but the best decision for me is to play the 2009 football season at Clemson University,” Spiller said. “I didn’t want to leave Clemson University with any regrets. I still have much to accomplish. I prayed about this decision for several days. But, at the end of the day you have to be a peace with your decision when you lay in bed. I wanted to go back to Clemson. I was just my gut feeling.

“It is also important to me that I get my degree. I can finish by next December and that is important. I want to set an example for the other young players in this program and the ones that will be coming to this program in the future.”

Swinney said he was overjoyed to have one of the nation’s most dynamic playmakers back in Clemson for 2009.

“I am obviously thrilled that C.J. Spiller will be returning to Clemson next year,” Swinney said. “It was just like the day he signed with us three years ago. There was a lot of anticipation in what he would decide.

“I really feel this is the best decision for C.J. He will be our featured player in our offense next year. I am anxious to see what he can do in that role. He is a back who can rush for 1000 and get another 500 receiving. That is something that has never been done at Clemson. He can be a first-team All-American and a Heisman candidate.”

Spiller said he was told by the draft advisory board he'd be a likely first-round pick, and also said that his mother, Patricia Watkins, had also wanted her son to end his college career, but he had to follow his heart.

"I know a lot of people are wondering, '(is) this guy crazy,"' Spiller said. "I know everything will work out. I really hadn't slept, really hadn't eaten, lost a lot of weight the last couple of days. At the end of the day, I'm going to be the one to lay on the bed and think about the decision I made."

Spiller definitely has left an indelible mark on the Clemson record books, including the aforementioned record for all-purpose yards. The junior broke the record of 4,839 yards previously held by Derrick Hamilton, who played from 2001-03, and has 4,908 for his career. He also has set several other Clemson records, including the most 50-yard plus touchdowns.

His 147.5 all-purpose yardage per game led the ACC this season , including returning 18 punts for 189 yards and 19 kickoffs for 516 yards. He rushed 166 times this season for 629 yards (5.4 average), and scored seven touchdowns on the ground. He also was fourth on the team in receptions, with 34, for 436 yards and three touchdowns.

All he can do now is add onto those records and add a few more along the way.

Spiller burst onto the national scene his freshman season when the Tigers hosted Georgia Tech in a matchup of Top 15 teams. He became the first Tiger to have a 50-yard touchdown run and 50-yard touchdown catch in the same game as Clemson rolled, 31-7. In all, he rushed 16 times for 116 yards and caught one pass for 50 yards.

Later that season, he posted another huge game against North Carolina State, carrying the ball 18 times for 154 yards, the highest rushing total by a Clemson freshman in 16 years. Two weeks later against the Gamecocks, his legend grew even more when he had an 80-yard touchdown run as part of a 10 carry, 155-yard effort against the rivals.

In 2007, his sophomore season, he once again took it to the North Carolina State Wolfpack, rushing 21 times for 114 yards as Clemson rolled up 608 yards of offense on the Pack in a 42-20 victory.

A month later at Maryland, the famous “guarantee” game from backfield mate James Davis, he ran 16 times for 106 yards and caught five passes for another 37 yards as Davis made good his guarantee of a win.

In the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl against Auburn. Spiller earned offensive MVP honors after gaining 218 all-purpose yards, including 112 yards on the ground (on just eight carries) and returning four kickoffs for 103 yards. Included in that total was an 83-yard touchdown run, the longest run by a Tiger in 14 years and the longest run in Clemson bowl history.

This past season, he earned ACC Offensive Back of the Week honors with 242 all-purpose yards in Clemson’s win at Boston College, the first win for new head coach Dabo Swinney. He had a 57-yard run in the first quarter to set up a touchdown, then with Clemson trailing 21-17 in the fourth quarter, he returned a kickoff 64 yards to the Eagles’ 15 with just over eight minutes left in the game, helping pave the way to a 27-21 win.

On homecoming against Duke, he once again earned those ACC honors, gaining 201 all-purpose yards, including a school-record 108 receiving yards by a running back on a career-best seven receptions. He also rushed for 71 yards, and in the third quarter took a screen pass 83 yards for a second touchdown on the longest reception by a running back in Clemson history.

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