By Tim Graham
In this week's NFL Sunday story, my goal was to give readers as deep of a look inside C.J. Spiller's formative years as I could.
With so much fascinating personal material to present, the profile couldn't include all the football anecdotes I gathered through my research. There simply wasn't enough room to cram all of it in.
One of Spiller's seminal football moments was visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame with his high school coach's family. Spiller told me he was inspired by the displays and bronze busts. It was then, he said, that he decided he wanted to be not only a great football payer, but also legendary.
"It was almost a church atmosphere the way he walked around and our kids walked around and I walked around," former Union County High coach Buddy Nobles said. "It's the ultimate of the sport that he plays and I coach. It was humbling to watch him and now know that he's playing pro football."
Nobles, though, saw flickers of Spiller's drive before they visited the Hall of Fame.
Nobles used to take his sons and players on field trips to see the Jacksonville Jaguars practice or to watch whatever teams were about to play in the Gator Bowl each year.
Nobles recalled a time Spiller absorbed everything former Jaguars running back Fred Taylor did.
"About three weeks later, we had our own practice," Nobles said. "We were doing what we call the sweep drill. C.J. ran it four or five times, and then all of a sudden he breaks one and goes about 65 or 70 yards to the other end of the field as fast as he could go, true C.J. speed.
"He jogged back, and I said, 'That's a good deal, but I can't have you wasting time like that. What were you doing?' He said, 'Coach, I saw Fred Taylor do that at Jaguars practice. I'm just preparing myself to make those runs.'
"That's when I said to myself, 'Just back off, Buddy. Let the kid be. Let him do his own thing.' "
Spiller wasn't the first NFL player to come out of Union County High. Nobles had been exposed to high-caliber talent before. He'd coached future New England Patriots defensive lineman Gerard Warren and Andrew Zow, who became Alabama's all-time leading passer.
"I knew C.J. was special then, and that was before the Hall of Fame," Nobles said. "He was a ninth-grader or a 10th-grader.
"I said to myself, 'That little joker just taught me something.' "
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