When I interviewed Buffalo Bills rookie running back C.J. Spiller(notes) last weekend after an adidas photo shoot, he was very concerned about the College World Series — his beloved Clemson Tigers were down in a game they would eventually lose. "They're playing right now, and they're losing to our rival, South Carolina — that makes it even worse!"
At Clemson, Spiller was used to success. He finished his collegiate career as the second player in NCAA history (Reggie Bush(notes) being the other) with at least 2,500 yards rushing, 1,500 yards in kickoff returns, 1,000 yards receiving and 500 yards in punt returns. Taken ninth overall in the 2010 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills, Spiller will go forward as one of the game's most versatile players; he has the potential to lead his team in several categories. His scholastic accomplishments have been just as impressive - he graduated in 3 ½ years with a degree in sociology, yet again proving his need to excel at everything he tries. Next stop: climbing the NFL ladder. Here's Part 2 of Spiller's Shutdown Corner interview.
Shutdown Corner: What do you think is the most underrated aspect of your game? Conversely, what's the one thing you feel the biggest need to develop?
C.J. Spiller: Everybody always questioned [whether] I could run between the tackles, because I'm not the biggest guy out there. I just take it with a grain of salt. I really don't let that get me down. Athletes have to understand that you're going to get good praise, and you're going to get terrible criticism, so you just have to keep moving forward. I try to work on all aspects of my game. I don't focus on my strengths and not work on my weaknesses, or work on my weaknesses and not focus on my strengths, so I try to work on everything I can to help me become a better football player.
SC: You graduated in 3½ years and received an ovation from the Clemson Board of Trustees when you crossed the stage. What's behind your belief in the importance of academics?
CJS: At the end of the day, football is going to end and you've got to have something to fall back on. Fortunately, I was able to graduate, and I can go do what I want to do now. I also wanted to get a jump. I didn't want to go out and talk about academics and try to encourage kids to finish up if I didn't do it. So that was the main thing that went into the reason I went back, because I wanted to talk to the young kids. I got a lot of respect for going back, and everything worked out for the best.
SC: Your degree is in Sociology — I'm curious if you've thought about what you'd like to do as a post-football career?
CJS: I haven't given it too much thought yet. Hopefully I have a long and successful career. As I start approaching the end of my career, I guess I'll start looking into it more and more. But right now, it's too far away. Hopefully, I'll give back to my hometown; become a coach one day. Right now, I'm just going to enjoy playing football.
SC: The Bills' offensive line is in transition right now. When you're running behind a line that doesn't create optimal space, what kinds of things do you do to make things happen from a technique perspective?
CJS: The offensive line needs you just as much as you need them. I think it's a two-way street. The main thing is the guys are working hard this offseason to become better. So the main thing is taking what the defense gives us, reading blocks, just trusting those guys that are coming along. Last year was last year, that's the thing we've been preaching. This is a totally different year, totally different team. I think those guys can't keep dwelling on what happened last year and all that type of stuff. I mean, everybody's going to talk about it, but I think we got a group of guys who are not going to worry about the outside.
SC: There are people who are just track-fast, and that speed doesn't really transfer to football. As someone who gained over 7,000 total yards in college and ran track and put up a 4.27 40-yard dash at the Combine, what do you think the difference is between fast football players and track guys who try to play football and fail?
CJS: I mean, it's totally different. It's two different sports. You've got guys that, I mean, I've been blessed enough me and my teammates to be football players that did that, and people that just want to run track. When you get on the football field, you just can't be fast. There's a lot of thought process that goes into it. You've got to know how to read defenses, and you have to be able to catch the ball, especially if you're a receiver. Pretty much everybody is going to respect your speed, most likely. They're going to play off you, so you've got to understand the concept of things.
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