Spiller, Dwyer headlining ACC’s top rushers

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Dekoda Watson was one of the few caught off guard.

Casually asked what he thought about “Jonathan Dwyer,” his mind went blank. And even after scouring his memory several seconds for an answer, he couldn’t find anything concrete.

“Nothing ... because I don’t know who that is,” he slowly responded, as if waiting for the punch line to a joke.

Perhaps an extra bit of qualifying information about Dwyer would help him out: “He’s Georgia Tech’s star running back.”

Throwing up his hands in disbelief, the Florida State linebacker kicked himself for not knowing Dwyer’s name initially. He just had to place the name with the Yellow Jackets’ star’s face.

Oh, he knows who Dwyer is. Watson knows exactly who the star running back is in the offense he called the “smartest and most frustrating” he has ever played against.

But Watson wasn’t alone. A handful of other players representing ACC schools had similar looks of “Jonathan, who?” when asked Sunday afternoon about the exploits of the reigning ACC player of the year.

Ask those same guys, Watson included, about the name “C.J. Spiller,” however, and their eyes instantly lit up.

“I like C.J., he’s a good player. He’s agile, he’s fast. He has the chance to be a Heisman Trophy winner, and I just hope he plays to the best of his ability,” Watson said.

Some contend Spiller — the conference’s preseason pick to be the 2008 player of the year — and Dwyer are poised for a year-long running back battle.

When the results of this year’s preseason player of the year poll are released this afternoon, many expect either one of their names to be called. And depending on how their years progress, one could even be named the nation’s top player, an opposing defensive lineman said.

“If (Dwyer) comes along and has the type of year I know he’s capable of having, then he and C.J. are probably going to New York,” said Wake Forest defensive end John Russell, who believes each could legitimately win the Heisman Trophy. “They’re both that talented. And the great thing about both those guys is that they’re great character guys, and they’re the kind of guys each team likes to rally around.”

Speaking of their character, when asked about one another, the running back pair used the nicest of words.

“It’s a cool experience just to be around the type of player that he is and to be around a great back like he is and ask him what he does just to see what he thinks when he’s playing,” Dwyer said of Spiller.

Spiller, who has split carries with the now departed James Davis throughout his career, rushed for more than 700 yards less than Dwyer last season. While supportive of most of Dwyer’s on-field exploits, Spiller contends he wants to have make up for last season by having more yards than the Yellow Jackets’ B-back come Sept. 10.

“He’s just tremendous,” Spiller said. “That’s one of the games I really look forward to (this year) because he’s a great running back, and we have great running backs, so it should be a lot of fun.”

The Yellow Jackets and Tigers meet under the lights the night of Sept. 10 at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. Out with a hamstring injury, Spiller missed last year’s game, which was played at Clemson.

A prolific punt and kickoff returner for Clemson, Spiller is just 921 yards shy of the top spot on the school’s all-time all-purpose yards list. He said he will do everything in his power to make sure that record topples.

“I’m doing everything full go. This is my last year. I’m going to have fun. There’s no need for me to hold back,” Spiller said. “So I’m going to be returning punts and kicks as I’ve been doing, anything that puts me in position to get the touchdown.”