C.J. was in no rush to leave college

By Allen Wilson
Updated: April 23, 2010

Clemson's C.J. Spiller graduated from school a semester early.

Clemson's C.J. Spiller graduated from school a semester early.

NEW YORK — The Buffalo Bills won’t have to worry about C.J. Spiller finishing what he starts.

The Clemson running back could have entered the NFL draft last year as a junior. But instead of pursuing fame and fortune in the pros, he came back to college.

He felt there were things he needed to improve, but his decision to stay in school had nothing to do about not being ready to play with the big boys.

Spiller set a goal of getting his degree in sociology and wasn’t leaving until he got it.

“He’s the right kind of kid,” Bills General Manager Buddy Nix said after taking Spiller with the ninth overall pick Thursday night. “His mother wanted him to come out.”

“He felt that he wanted to graduate by his class. He was recruited by the head coach and felt a loyalty to him and felt the NFL was still going to be there.”

“You only get one chance to be a senior in college and I just wanted to experience that,” Spiller said. “But the main focus was for me to graduate in December, which I accomplished because I just wanted to be an example to the other guys.”

Spiller was such an example, finishing his degree in only 3½ years, that he got a standing ovation from Clemson’s board of trustees during his graduation in December.

“I was not expecting that at all,” he said. “It was an honor, a humbling experience. Like I tell guys you never know who is watching you both on and off the field, so I try to carry myself the very best I can.”

The next cheers Spiller gets will be from the raucous patrons at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Taking Spiller — the Atlantic Coast Conference Offensive Player of the Year — was a bit of a surprise, but for a team that has struggled to score the last several years, the Bills got perhaps the best point producer in the draft.

Spiller scored 51 touchdowns — 32 rushing, 11 receiving and eight on returns in 52 career games. Twenty-one of his TDs covered 50 yards or more.

“He’s a playmaker,” Nix said. “He’s a guy that changes field position and scores points. We need a guy who can make a big play and create some things on their own.”

There is no question that Spiller is capable of creating the kind of big plays that have been missing from the Bills’ offense during its seven-year stretch of mediocrity.

He was a dynamic all-purpose talent at Clemson whose 4.32-second speed in the 40-yard dash gave him the chance to score from anywhere on the field and in a lot of different ways.

His muscular 5-foot-10, 196-pound frame and explosive ability as a runner, receiver and kick returner have drawn comparisons to Reggie Bush, the multi-faceted back for the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

Spiller is only the second player in NCAA history with at least 3,000 yards rushing (3,547), 1,000 receiving (1,420), 1,500 on kickoff returns (2,052) and 500 returning punts (569).

The only other player to achieve those totals? Bush, who electrified opponents at Southern California before becoming the second overall pick in the 2006 draft.

Spiller also is similar to Chris Johnson, a small back that showed great toughness in rushing for more than 2,000 yards for the Tennessee Titans last season.

“I try to do my best not to compare myself to anybody,” said Spiller, who ran for 1,212 yards and 12 touchdowns, caught 36 passes for 503 yards and four TDs while averaging 32.8 yards with four TDs on kickoff returns and 26.3 and another score on eight punt returns as a senior.

“Every guy is very different, and that’s the thing that I kept preaching to teams when I met with them. You’re not going to draft either one of those guys. The guy you are drafting will be C.J. Spiller. [But] it’s an honor just to be mentioned amongst those two because of what they have done in the NFL.”

Spiller joins a crowded backfield that includes Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. Nix insisted Spiller’s selection does not mean there will be any roster moves, but the Bills certainly didn’t take Spiller as high as they did to make him a part-time player.

For now, playing time is the least of Spiller’s concerns.

“I’m not worried about how I will be used in the offense or how many touches I may have,” he said. “Whatever my role is, my main focus is winning the Super Bowl and bringing back the glory days that used to be in Buffalo.”