In figuring out who are the best running backs in Clemson history, it’s not about whom to put on the list, but more about who do you have to leave off. You will notice greats such as Terry Allen, Kenny Flowers, Terrance Flagler, Lester Brown, Buddy Gore and Chuck McSwain did not make it. It doesn’t mean they are not great because they are. It just means there have been a lot of great running backs in Clemson’s history.
However, like at quarterback, it’s a no brainer on whom the best of the best running backs is. C.J. Spiller broke countless Clemson, ACC and even a few NCAA records in his four years in Tigertown, but what the running back and former ACC Player of the Year actually did was greater than that. Because the Lake Butler, Fla., native, who was recruited by just about every big-time school in the country in 2006, took a chance to come to a college that had not won much of anything prior to his arrival, he changed the program, much like former quarterback Steve Fuller did in 1975.
Spiller was a unanimous first-team All-American in 2009 when he led the Tigers to the ACC’s Atlantic Division championship and a No. 24 final Associated Press ranking. He rushed for 1,212 yards and had 503 receiving yards to go with five kick returns for touchdowns in 2009 when he was named the ACC Player of the Year.
Because of Spiller’s success the Tigers soon landed other superstars that directly changed the program’s fortune and led to last year’s national championship. Players like Deshaun Watson, Tajh Boyd, Deandre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Shaq Lawson, Mike Williams and others have said Spiller’s success played a big role in why they chose to come to Clemson.
But Spiller, who played at Clemson from 2006-’09, isn’t the best running back just because of those reasons. No other running back in Clemson’s long history put up the numbers he did as far as yards, receiving yards and touchdowns. Spiller had 51 total touchdowns and dazzled fans with his explosiveness and his ability to cut on a dime.
He is the ACC’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards and is second in NCAA history. He is the first player in ACC history and the second in college football to rush for 1,000 yards and have 500 receiving yards in the same season.
Spiller owns 53 Clemson records. Spiller is the only running back in Clemson history to earn All-American honors, which he did in 2009. Spiller was one of the most explosive players in college football history.
The 2009 ACC Player of the Year was also the MVP of the ACC Championship game after he rushed for 233 yards and scored a school-record four touchdowns against Georgia Tech. He finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy race.
Spiller was also a First-Team All-American as a kick returner and was the first player in the history of college football to be named a Walter Camp All-American at two different positions in the same year. Spiller finished his career as the Tigers’ all-time leader in receptions for a running back, receiving yards for a running back (1,420), touchdown receptions by a running back (12), all-purpose yards (7,558) and total touchdowns (51). He is third all-time in total rushing yards, fifth in carries, second in yards per carry and fourth in rushing touchdowns. He ran for 3,547 yards and scored 32 rushing touchdowns. He second all-time in scoring with 308 points and scored a record 51 total touchdowns.
Wayne Gallman (2014-’16): Gallman left Clemson as one of the school’s most decorated and productive running backs in history, while also playing a vital role in the Tigers’ run to a second national championship. His 3,429 career yards rank fifth all-time in Clemson history, and he did it in just three seasons. The two-time All-ACC running back had back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons in 2015 and ’16, just the fourth running back in Clemson history to do so. He also finished third in his career in rushing touchdowns with 34 and had 65 career receptions for 473 yards and two more touchdowns. In 2015, he set Clemson’s single-season rushing record when he ran for 1,527 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. He also broke Spiller’s yards from scrimmage record with 1,740 yards. His 283 carries that year were also the most in Clemson history. His nine 100-yard rushing games are the most in one season as well, breaking Priester’s old record of eight. He finished his career with 17 100-yard games, which is also a school record, again breaking Priester’s career mark of 15. By the way, Clemson was 17-0 in those games in which Gallman went over 100 yards.
James Davis (2005-‘08): A teammate of Spiller’s for three years, Davis played a big role in Spiller’s decision to come to Clemson. The two-time First-Team All-ACC running back led the Tigers in rushing all four years including back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2006 and 2007 – just the second Clemson running back in history to accomplish such a feat. He holds the Clemson record for rushing touchdowns in a career (47) and tied Lester Brown’s single-season record (17) in 2006. Davis ranks second all-time in total career rushing yards (3,881), second in 100-yard rushing games (14), second in carriers (753), third in total touchdowns (49) and sixth in scoring (294 points).
Travis Zachery (1998-2001): Before Spiller, Zachery was known as the most complete running back in Clemson history. Not only did he finish his career as the school’s second all-time rushing leader (3,058 yards), but he was dynamic as a run blocker and as a receiver out of the backfield. Before his Clemson career was over, he held Clemson records for rushing touchdowns (41), total touchdowns (50), receptions by a running back and receiving yards by a running back (1,057) and receiving touchdowns by a running back (9). Zachery’s numbers still rank high today on a lot of Clemson’s all-time list. The First-Team All-ACC running back is fifth in career rushing yards, third in carries (691), second in rushing touchdowns and second in total touchdowns. He also ranks fifth all-time in scoring (300 points) and fourth in all-purpose yards (4,391).
Raymond Priester (1994-’97): You have to put the school’s all-time rushing leader on this list. Priester, a three-time All-ACC selection – including a first-team selection in 1997, was a battering ram for the Tigers as he holds the school’s all-time rushing record with 3,966 yards. He was the first running back in Clemson history to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. He also holds the record for most carries in a career (805) and finished with the most 100-yard rushing games (15). He is one of just two players in Clemson history to rush for 200 or more yards twice in a game, including the school record of 263 yards against Duke in 1995. Priester also owned the record for the most rushing yards in a single-season (1,345 in 1996) at one time and the third most in a single-season (1,322 in 1995). He also still holds the record for average rushing yards in a season (112.1 in 1996).
Andre Ellington (2009-2012): A two-time All-ACC performer, Ellington rushed for 3,436 yards on 621 carries and 33 touchdowns in his Clemson career. He also had 59 receptions for 505 yards and two touchdowns. He ranks fourth in school history in rushing touchdowns, third in all-purpose yards (4,586), tied for fourth in 100-yard rushing games (12), fourth in rushing yards, fourth in carries, fourth in total touchdowns (36), and sixth in yards per carry (5.53). Ellington reached 1,000 career rushing yards in just 151 carries, the second-fewest carries needed to reach 1,000 yards in Clemson history; Spiller (142) was better. Ellington had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons (2011 and 2012) to become just the third running back in school history to reach 1,000 rushing yards in back-to-back seasons.
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