Clemson's Spiller opts to return for senior year

Clemson tailback C.J. Spiller announce he will returning for his senior NCAA college football season during a news conference Thursday Jan. 15, 2009, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

CLEMSON -- Armed with a first-round draft projection and the urging of his mother to turn pro, Clemson running back C.J. Spiller showed again why he's so hard to pin down. Spiller said Thursday he would return to the Tigers for his senior season, putting off the NFL draft on the final day eligible underclassmen could declare. Spiller said he was told by the draft advisory board he'd be a likely first-round pick. He also said his mother, Patricia Watkins, had also wanted her son to end his college career. He chose a different path. "I know a lot of people are wondering, (is) this guy crazy,"' Spiller said. "I know everything will work out." It certainly has for the Tigers, who faced the prospect of losing all their top playmakers had Spiller bolted. Instead, Spiller's words were greeted with shouts and cheers from the dozens of teammates, coaches and athletic department staffers who filled the McFadden team meeting room to watch. "I think he has a true peace about what he wants to do," said coach Dabo Swinney, who gained full-time status after the season just ended. Spiller, nicknamed "Lightning" for his flashy moves and explosive speed, led the Tigers with 1,770 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns. Spiller now becomes the focus of Clemson's offense, where record-setters like quarterback Cullen Harper, receiver Aaron Kelly and tailback James Davis were all seniors this season. "Really hadn't slept, really hadn't eaten, lost a lot of weight the last couple of days," Spiller said. "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." He went back and forth from the end of Clemson's 26-21 Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska until the deadline. He got some disagreement about his future from those closest to him. It was when Spiller broke away for some alone time, "something just didn't sit right when I thought about leaving Clemson." Spiller may have to deal with some hurt feelings in his family, although it's far from the first time he went against the wishes of his mother. Spiller, from Lake Butler, Fla., shocked everyone, including Watkins, three years ago when he turned down nearby Florida to play for the Tigers. Then after his freshman season, Spiller's mother had hoped he would transfer to the Gators -- a possibility that appeared to have legs. But Spiller returned to campus and pledged himself to the Tigers. Defying his mother a third time appeared inevitable. "That's why I'm not a teenager anymore. I'm a man," he said. "I've got to make man decisions." Swinney thinks Spiller could be a contender for the Heisman Trophy. "Let's get that going right away," said Swinney, smiling. Willy Korn, Clemson's backup quarterback this year, thought Spiller was gone to the pros. Now, Korn can't wait to watch Spiller break off those electrifying runs he's known for. "He's one of the hardest workers on the team so no doubt he's going to have another big year," Korn said. Spiller said he'll get to work on his conditioning, his game and his degree. He became the first running back in Clemson history to earn first team all- Atlantic Coast Conference honors and make the dean's list, and he plans to graduate in August. Then he can work on his football resume. He wants to win a bowl game, something Clemson has not done in his first three seasons, and finish as strongly as he can. "I had to do what's best for me," Spiller said. "That was being at Clemson."