Painful toe injury can't stop Clemson's Spiller

BY foxsports • November 11, 2009

Spiller, who has missed just one game in his college career and has never broken a bone or tore a ligament, said he can mostly ignore the pain when he is on the field. But once the game is over, his big toe plays a big part of his life.

The senior gets up every morning before sunrise, and dunks the toe in a bucket of ice water, then gets it stretched out. He'll repeat the treatment after classes and wishes he could get it while he sleeps. It's about the only thing the trainers can do for turf toe.

It's just temporary relief. The toe isn't getting any better until Spiller can rest it. And that's not happening with the No. 24 Tigers closing in on a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

"I get my rest when I need it. This is football, you're going to get wore down, you're going to get tired," said Spiller, who ignored projections he was a possible first-round NFL draft pick after last season to return to school.

Clemson's accomplishments this season also help soothe the pain of his sore toe. The Tigers can earn a trip to their first Atlantic Coast Conference title game with wins over North Carolina State on Saturday and Virginia a week later. A win there would secure the team's first ACC title since 1991, and an Orange Bowl bid. Clemson hasn't won a bowl game in Spiller's years at the school.

"I'm loving it. That's why I came back, to play for my final year - play with my teammates, put us in position to win the ACC championship game, playing big games like we played Saturday, compete and then graduate," Spiller said. "I'm just sitting back and just enjoying it."

In the past two games where Spiller has seen significant action, he gained more than half the Tigers total yards (including kick returns) with a touchdown on a kickoff and a pass reception, and two rushing scores. Spilled set a school record with 310 all-purpose yards against Miami, then broke the record two weeks later with 312 yards against Florida State.

Against the Seminoles, Spiller appeared to be slowing down in the fourth quarter, going out of bounds a couple of times when he could have gained a few extra yards and getting caught from behind for the first time anyone can remember. Spiller said his toe wasn't the problem, and his coach believes him.

"Three-hundred and something yards, I don't care if you're healthy, you're going to be tired and gassed and probably a little beat up and bruised," coach Dabo Swinney said.

Clemson is making a late season pitch to put Spiller in the minds of Heisman Trophy voters. The school points out Spiller's average of 200 all-purpose yards a game is better than the numbers put up in the Heisman Trophy winning seasons of Tim Brown of Notre Dame or Desmond Howard of Michigan. His eight touchdowns of 50 yards or more this season compares very favorably to the three 50-yard plus touchdowns scored by Reggie Bush of Southern California when he won in 2005.

Spiller even briefly made what he called a baby Heisman pose after scoring a late touchdown against Florida State.

"I believe I'm in there. I think I've got the team positioning to send me there," Spiller said. "My main thing now is to just go out and play, just have fun."

Swinney called Spiller a Heisman Trophy candidate when he announced he was returning to school in January, so he certainly hasn't changed his mind.

"C.J. Spiller, he's a program changer. Unless he just robs a bank or something, he's going to be on that stadium right there in the Ring of Honor," Swinney said.

Spiller's teammates are amazed by what he has been able to do this season, especialy tight end Michael Palmer, who injured his toe in high school.

"I realize how much it hurts when you're walking. His toe, it's pretty bad," Palmer said. "What he's doing right now, it truly is special. He's one heck of a player. He deserves every accolade he gets, if not more."