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C.J. Spiller's grandparents played pivotal role in raising him

By Tim Graham

The designation "step-grandfather" apparently is a nebulous one.

Many readers responded furiously to today's report that C.J. Spiller's step-grandfather, Hubert Allen Jr., shot and killed two people and wounded two others before killing himself in Union County, Fla.

Angry readers felt the story was gratuitous, that it besmirched Spiller, that it was a stretch to include the star running back's name. One reader claimed a step-grandfather is no closer than a third cousin twice removed. Other readers ruled the incident was no big deal for Spiller because he played this afternoon.

I've spent considerable time talking with Spiller about his family over the past few days. I'm in the process of writing an in-depth feature story about how his family shaped the man he is.

Spiller's bedrock was -- and still is -- his late grandmother, Nettie Pearl Allen.

"She taught me how to be a man, how to treat women, how to treat your elders, how to be an influence to young people and understanding the spotlight," Spiller told me of his Grandma Nettie.

Hubert Allen was her husband. The Allens helped Spiller's single mother, Patricia Watkins, raise her children. Spiller's dad wasn't around. Spiller was 18 before he and his father rekindled. They're still a work in progress.

Watkins worked nights as an aide at a nursing home. During the school year, Spiller slept at Grandpa Hubert and Grandma Nettie's house. Spiller would rise at 5:30 a.m. to accompany his grandmother to work. She was the custodian at the high school.

"Cleaning the classrooms and vacuuming and taking out the trash and mopping the floors," Spiller said. "She had to make sure the classrooms were ready for kids to learn. That's why I think I'm a morning person to this day.

"She always said I was her guardian angel because it literally was just her and me in the whole, dark school building. It was dark outside. It taught me so much respect for people who do that hard work. It takes great character to be able to do that and keep doing it. She always just wanted to be there for the kids."

Spiller is driven by his grandmother's memory. He makes a sign of the cross and points to the sky before every game.

"That just lets her know, 'I'm fittin' to go out here and represent our family in the best way, and I know you're up there watching me,' " Spiller said.

He also takes a knee after every touchdown, says a short prayer and points to the sky for her again.

Spiller didn't mention his step-grandfather much in our talks, but I didn't ask about him specifically. We spent so much time talking about Grandma Nettie, but Spiller did speak about how lucky he was that his grandparents -- plural -- were there for him and his mother.

As for how Spiller could play a preseason football game if he'd been made aware of this morning's report, perhaps this story about his grandmother's death will provide some insight.

Grandma Nettie died when Spiller was in the eighth grade. She had lung cancer. She deteriorated quickly after her diagnosis. She was staying in Watkins' trailer home at the time.

Before dawn, Spiller was awakened by the sound of someone gasping for air and climbed out of his bunk bed. He watched his grandmother draw her final breaths and die in front of him. She was 52.

Spiller went to school that day. He went home early because he couldn't stop crying.

But he got dressed and showed up.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | [email protected]


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | [email protected]


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | [email protected]

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