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C.J. Spiller expects three-headed monster in running back room

Lawton Hilliard, Contributor
Clemson running back Will Shipley (1) prepares to stiff arm a South Carolina State defender in Memorial Stadium.
In a season filled with ups-and-downs for the Tigers’ offense, Clemson running back coach C.J. Spiller led his position group to 1,789 rushing yards, and now Spiller expects to have the tailbacks develop into a three-pronged threat.
Led by freshman Will Shipley, who finished with 739 rushing yards, the Tigers’ running backs possess talent and depth that have impressed Spiller. Backing Shipley up last season was Kobe Pace and Phil Mafah, who gained 641 and 292 yards, respectively.
As Shipley and Mafah enter their sophomore seasons and Pace enters his junior season, Clemson running back coach C.J. Spiller expects the trio to become a three-headed monster.
“Those three guys, you can put them on any team in America, and they can go start,” Spiller said on Monday.
“When you’re talking about separation, it’s going to be very slim because we, as an offensive staff, feel very comfortable putting any of those guys in there.”
Spiller, while confident in each running back’s ability, did not take away from each ball carrier’s unique skillset.
“All three of them bring something totally different to the table, which is what you like as a running backs coach.”
Shipley’s 11 rushing touchdowns in 2021 were the program’s second- highest total for a true freshman behind Travis Etienne’s 13 in 2017.
Pace, meanwhile, started in six games for the Tigers last season after recording 50 snaps as a freshman.
While Shipley is the supposed lead tailback for next fall, he and Pace have been out with injuries this spring. Shipley is dealing with a foot injury, while Pace is still recovering from a foot injury.
Shipley and Pace’s injuries have kept them off the field this spring, but they have also given Mafah an opportunity to impress coaches and be the No. 1 back for Saturday’s spring game.
“He’s just been unbelievable this whole spring,” Spiller said of Mafah on Monday. “He took a gigantic step in his game.”
Aside from his play on the practice field, Mafah has impressed Spiller with his leadership skills this spring.
“He can do it all,” Spiller said. “He just took his game to a whole new level from a mental aspect, from a vocal aspect, and really challenged the younger guys to step up.”
Spiller refused to set a timetable for Shipley and Pace’s return, which means Mafah will continue to receive more playing time during spring practices.
“I’m really appreciative of it,” Mafah said of his increased workload on March 9. “It’s helped me out with my confidence.”
As for the team’s depth behind Mafah, Clemson has mid-year enrollee Keith Adams Jr. and walk on Domonique Thomas on its roster.
With Clemson’s spring game set for Saturday, April 9, fans won’t be able to watch the full three-headed monster in action until the fall, but they will get a glimpse of Mafah’s development and growth since last year. 
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