Hello STS folks. It has been a while since we got in the time machine. This COVID-19 business has been crazier than anyone probably could have expected. I’ve had some things going on in my personal life, namely losing my father back in June. I’m dedicating this story to him. I’ve been waiting to write one of these on perhaps my favorite Tiger of all time and the man I attribute to setting the wheels of dominance in motion: CJ Spiller.
Clemson’s 2009 season was, of course, the first full season with Dabo Swinney as head coach. One of the biggest moments in those early days was when Spiller decided to spurn the NFL and return for his senior season, fulfilling a promise he made that if Swinney got the job, he would return. Tiger fans had obviously been treated to many highlight moments during Spiller’s first three seasons, but it often felt he was still underutilized by former Offensive Coordinator Rob Spence.
Swinney promised to throw the saddle on Spiller and ride that horse as much as possible, beginning with making sure his son was keeping track of Spiller getting enough touches in games. Spiller’s 2009 season was one for the ages, and he pretty much carried that team to its first Atlantic Division championship. Clemson was having to operate behind a freshman quarterback, and while Kyle Parker was a talented guy, he had freshman moments in several games, and was not really in position to win a game on his arm alone.
Spiller would go on to 1212 yards rushing, 503 yards receiving, 755 yards on kick returns, and 210 yards on punt returns. He scored a touchdown in every way possible, including throwing for a score. Spiller had 4 kick return touchdowns, including one with just one shoe on, and 1 punt return touchdown. He scored at least once in every game that season. What’s more, Spiller played through a painful turf toe injury for nearly the entire season. Spiller won the ACC Player of the Year.
Ironically, perhaps Spiller’s greatest performance was in a losing effort in the 2009 ACC Championship Game. Spiller remains the only player to win MVP on the losing team. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Kevin Steele’s defense had no real answers for Paul Johnson’s option and only forced one possession without a score on a DaQuan Bowers TFL on a fourth and short. Kyle Parker’s two interceptions ultimately kept Clemson from simply outscoring the Jackets.
However, Spiller put in yeoman’s work with 20 carries for 233 yards and 4 touchdowns. His 11.7 yards per rush set an ACC championship game record, as did his rushing total and touchdowns. Spiller’s effort, heart, and determination would come to define the Dabo Swinney-era Clemson program.
It wasn’t just that this 5-star kid from Florida chose Clemson, it was the career he put together in the process while becoming a Clemson graduate. Enjoy that #28 doing work in the video below, and I can’t wait for when his name is rightfully added to the Ring of Honor.