TOMBALL, Texas — Isaiah Spiller took an initial step toward the line of scrimmage while listening to a trusted voice telling him how to become even more elusive, how to escape defenders’ pursuit, how to cut sharply, and use his power to break tackles.
As the imposing 20-year-old Texas A&M running back drilled recently on these nuances of the game in between his visits to NFL facilities in advance of next week’s NFL Draft, he listened intently to the coaching of Rischad Whitfield, AKA “Footwork King.”
The drills ranged from traditional movements to more unorthodox ones designed to simulate open-field football situations, rapid-fire cuts, and decision-making. It’s as much about mental preparations as physical movements from a movement and performance specialist who has trained Deebo Samuel, Le’Veon Bell, Jerick McKinnon, David Montgomery, Odell Beckham Jr., Xavien Howard, and CeeDee Lamb, among multiple other NFL players.
Whitfield has been working with Spiller for a dozen years since he was eight years old with his parents, Fred Spiller, a former Aggies tight end who played for R.C. Slocum, and Lesha Spiller, having him oversee the extra homework that’s gone into developing their son into an All-Southeastern Conference running back. His parents have become fixtures at the artificial turf field where Whitfield plies his trade with NFL, college, and high school football players.
‘Makes me a better player’
“Rischad has been very influential in my life, teaching me a lot of the tricks of the game,” Spiller said. “I know what Rischad teaches me helps me out in the game, helps my vision, helps me break tackles, and helps me score touchdowns. This workout was very unorthodox, very new to me, but it’s something I can put in my skill bag.
“By working on different things, it all makes me a better player so I can excel at the next level where everyone is bigger and faster. I’m out here working every day and getting ready for that call from the team that drafts me.”
Regarded as a three-down back, the Spring, Texas native has set his ambitions at high levels. He wants to earn a starting job and set himself apart in the incoming rookie class.
Rookie of the Year ambition
“I like to set my goals high for myself, I want to be Rookie of the Year,” Spiller said. “Rookie of the Year is on my mind, but becoming a starter and learning the playbook is the first thing I have to do.
“It’s pretty surreal to me. It’s a dream come true. I’m working hard every day because my dream is still uncertain. It’s a great opportunity for me. I feel like I’m ready for the next level.”
Big and strong at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Spiller was a blue-chip recruit at Klein Collins High School and an Under Armour All-American selection after gaining 3,587 yards from scrimmage in high school and scoring 53 touchdowns.
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) April 1, 2022
He made an immediate impact as a true freshman, earning the starting job and rushing for 946 yards and 10 touchdowns as an All-SEC freshman selection.
“Isaiah was able to pick things up early, he’s very intelligent,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said during Spiller’s college career. “Isaiah is big, physical, and strong, and he’s very open to coaching. That’s the great thing. He’s got even more upside.”
Spiller rushed for 1,011 yards and 6 touchdowns and caught 25 passes for 189 yards and 1 score last season before declaring early for the NFL. He rushed for 1,036 yards and 9 touchdowns with 20 catches for 193 yards as a sophomore.
Could Spiller be RB1?
“Mr. Spiller and Mrs. Spiller put their faith in me a long time ago and we’ve been grinding ever since, watching him build, and he got better and better every year at each level, and it’s translating now,” Whitfield said. “It’s more detailed. It’s more attention to detail. Whatever you ask Isaiah to do, he can do it.
“Isaiah is elusive in traffic. He can pass block. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s an every-down back. He doesn’t have to come out of the game. It’s the small things he does to get to the third level.”
Spiller is healthy again after dealing with an abdominal strain that prevented him from doing a full workout at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he had a 30-inch vertical leap and a 9’6″ broad jump.
Rischad Whitfield @Footwork_King2 has been training with Texas A&M running back Isaiah Spiller @isaiah_spiller since he was 8 yrs old. Now, he's about to be drafted into the NFL @NFL @AggieFootball #NFLDraft Whitfield 'He can do it all, every-down back' pic.twitter.com/FxWeQX7fUD
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) April 1, 2022
“He’s moving the way he can move now,” Whitfield said. “He’s able to cut it loose.”
Spiller averaged 5.4, 5.5, and 5.6 yards per carry over the past three seasons.
He finished his career with 2,993 rushing yards and 25 touchdown runs.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a game where he didn’t make the first dude miss,” Whitfield said. “Isaiah always makes the first guy miss and moves the chains. He’s instinctive. He has good vision and a good feel for the game. He’s an upright runner, but Isaiah knows when to lower the shoulder.
“All the other guys, the running backs in the draft, they’re good, but they’re not better than Isaiah, RB1. It’s the small things he does on film. He’s better than these guys. He’s a big, tall running back who’s well-put-together and healthy now.”
Spiller visited multiple teams, including hometown Texans
Spiller visited the hometown Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills and Washington Commanders. He had virtual meetings with the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers. He has drawn heavy interest from multiple teams throughout the draft process, including the Atlanta Falcons.
Should he be drafted by the Texans, Spiller would welcome the opportunity after playing college ball close to home in nearby College Station.
“That would be great,” he said. “My friends and family are here. Staying home, being a hometown hero, my family is really important to me. I think I would do very well in the community here, helping out, giving back. I feel like I would be a great asset to the Texans.”
Spiller met with the Buccaneers, Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, and Miami Dolphins in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine, among others. He met with Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel.
“That was cool,” said Spiller, who added that he had a “really good” meeting with Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy in Indianapolis.
“Wherever I wind up, they’re going to get a great person,” Spiller said. “They’re going to get somebody who’s a hard worker, a team player, somebody who’s going to give it their all every day. I can catch the ball. I can run it. My vision is great.
“I can block, protect, and protect the football. I will set the tone that you’re not going to get bullied around all game. I love my job. I feel like I have all the intangibles to be great at the next level, and that’s what I plan on being.”
Spiller studies and emulates NFL running backs like Bell, Cincinnati Bengals standout Joe Mixon, and former NFL Most Valuable Player and All-Pro selection Adrian Peterson along with Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.
“It’s a passing league,” he said. “You have to be able to do it all.”
Spiller will soon be drafted and sign an NFL contract. Regardless of where he’s drafted — he’s been projected generally as a second-round or third-round draft target and higher — Spiller has an important purchase on his mind.
“I’d like to buy my mom a house,” he said. “I have pretty much everything I want in my life, but I’d like to do that for her because she deserves it.
“My parents’ support means everything to me. I’m not doing it alone. I love them for everything they’ve done for me, and I’m doing it all for them.”