By Tim Graham
Fans are quick to embrace sports heroes yet so often are disappointed to learn they are flawed, sometimes nefarious, people.
C.J. Spiller, his college coach insists, will not be one of those. To hear Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney's praise, Buffalo Bills fans won't ever have to toss their rumpled Spiller jerseys into the back of the closet or dump them into a trash can.
"He's real. He's a real dude," Swinney told me a week ago. "You have to always be careful when you pull for somebody because some people might have a façade. But he's as real as they come, as genuine as they come."
I interviewed Swinney for The Buffalo News' 2013 NFL preview cover story. The section will be available Sunday. Not all of Swinney's thoughts made it into the profile. I wanted to share some more here.
While Spiller is tight-lipped when discussing specific goals, Swinney rattled them off. Spiller's goals are grand. You'll have to read to story to find out what they are, but they'd be building blocks to a legendary stature if Spiller can achieve them.
Swinney claimed Spiller is capable.
"If he stays healthy, that guy is going to turn the NFL upside down," Swinney said. "There's just not many talents out there like C.J. Spiller. He's just beyond special.
"There's no goal out there that's out of his reach. There's isn't one. When it's all said and done, there might be a lot of guys saying, 'I want to break C.J. Spiller's records one day.' He's that kind of good."
Swinney was a Clemson assistant and then its head coach for Spiller's final season. He watched Spiller annihilate Clemson's record book and graduate with a sociology degree a semester early.
Clemson retired Spiller's No. 28 almost as quickly as it could, during the bye week of his rookie season with Buffalo.
Swinney was Clemson's receivers coach when he recruited Spiller from tiny Lake Butler, Fla. Swinney played at Alabama and had been a graduate assistant at his alma mater when Andrew Zow was quarterback. Zow was from Lake Butler, too.
Swinney stunned many in the recruiting world by swaying Spiller away from the University of Florida, where Spiller's mother wanted him to attend, and Florida State.
"C.J. is the most unique guy I've ever recruited," Swinney said. "He was different in that he knew what he wanted. Most young people don't really know. He was focused and wise beyond his years.
"He was not afraid to take a leap of faith. He went against his family. He went against what the world thought was the right thing to do by going to Florida or Florida State. He came to Clemson at a time when we weren't really that good. He was wise enough to say, 'I need that environment. I can go and be me and continue to grow as a person.' "
Swinney long has been impressed with Spiller's religious faith and said the star running back is "a man of his word. He's got incredible guts and a rock-solid faith that is really unshakable."
Swinney claimed that sort of character, plus world-class speed and the ability to make defenders look foolish, can propel Spiller a long way.
"This guy has vision for greatness," Swinney said. "It's one thing to have the vision for it. It's another thing to have the work ethic for it. That's a whole different deal.
"A lot of guys sit around and dream big things. Then they don't take the action to make those things happen. This guy here, I'll promise you, will work relentlessly to be the best. He's not in that league to be just another good player. His goal every year -- and he might not say it -- is to be the best."