Former Central star C.J. Spillman helped the 49ers to the NFC title game.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I don't know if the San Francisco 49ers or the Atlanta Falcons will win the NFC title game Sunday, but I do know this:
Central High School is going to the Super Bowl.
"I think my heart is going to come out of my chest," said Margaret Demaree, a teacher at Central.
Here is why: When the 49ers and Falcons play in the Georgia Dome, a former Yellow Jacket football player will line up for each team. Corey Peters, Central Class of 2006, is a back-up defensive tackle for Atlanta. C.J. Spillman, Central Class of 2004, is reserve defensive back and special teams stud for the 49ers.
The winner proceeds to New Orleans Feb. 3 for the Super Bowl.
"We'll cheer for both teams and hope they play overtime forever," said Steve Serotte, who coached both guys for the Yellow Jackets.
"They took different paths, but they're both great kids who started doing the work they needed to do to develop their abilities a long time ago. It's great to see them rewarded, and it's something everybody at Central should celebrate."
Neither Peters not Spillman have forgotten their school. Both visit during the off-season, and Spillman asked current Central coach Ty Scroggins for the opportunity to speak with his players during the state playoffs. He loves telling his story because it is a wonderful story of perseverance.
"He gave a great speech about being accountable, listening to the people who are trying to help you reach your goals and always competing because there is somebody trying to take your spot," Scroggins said.
That is the one-paragraph version of Spillman's story. His high school career was at risk of because he wasn't serious about his academic responsibilities at Central. Spillman wasn't a bad kid. He was a kid making bad decisions.
Then he made a life-changing commitment to work with Demaree. She became his mentor, establishing a program titled 1+1=U, which remains in place at Central. They worked after school and before school. Spillman overcame the pressure from peers who wondered why he was wasting so much time in Demaree's classroom.
"Eventually he told them, ‘It's a lot better getting my work done in there than it is hanging out there with you,' " Demaree recalled. "C.J. helped a lot of kids because his participation got everybody interested in the program. We've developed a strong program of peer tutoring."
Still, even Spillman had more work to do because his transcript wasn't ready to support his athletic skills. After graduating from Central in 2004, he attended Fork Union Military Academy for one year before signing a scholarship with Marshall. He played four solid seasons for the Thundering Herd.
There were two final potholes for Spillman to cross: His name was not called during the 2009 NFL Draft. And although he made the Chargers as an undrafted free agent, San Diego cut him in the middle of the 2010 season.
He wasn't a free agent for long. San Francisco signed him one day after he was released. Spillman has been such a relentlessly ferocious player for the 49ers that the team signed him to a three-year contract last spring. Some scouts consider Spillman the best player in the NFL on punt coverage teams. He recovered a muffed punt in the 49ers' win over Green Bay Saturday night.
"That's the track background," Serotte said. "C.J. has always been an incredible runner."
Peters, of course, traveled a more traditional route to the NFL. He signed with Kentucky after graduating from Central in 2006. He positioned himself in the middle of the Wildcats' defensive line and became one of the best run-stoppers in the Southeastern Conference.
Atlanta selected Peters in the third round of the 2010 draft. After starting for two seasons, he missed the first six games this season because of a foot injury. He is listed on the second team on the team's depth chart and made one tackle in the Falcons' win against Seattle Sunday.
"They're both good players who contribute any way they can," Scroggins said.
That includes contributing in the community. Peters supports the Rally Foundation, which fights childhood cancer. He was named the Falcons' Man of the Year in 2011. During the Christmas holiday, Spillman worked with Demaree to distribute 25 $200 ToysRUs gift cards and purchase Christmas dinners for 80 local families.
"It's something C.J. wants to keep doing," Demaree said. "He said next year he wants it to be even bigger."