He thought it was funny. She thought he was lucky.
“You’re lucky that’s not you on the front page,” she told him, after seeing the story of Othello Henderson.
“And that’s when I end up getting a phone call,” Spiller said.
Spiller didn’t know Othello Henderson, a former football and track standout at Ellison High School, who took money from multiple sports agents while attending UCLA and was the focus of a Tuesday article in the Killeen Daily Herald.
But he knows where Henderson is coming from.
Spiller, when asked if he ever received money or gifts from a sports agent, laughed because he knew he’d been caught — again.
“Like Othello said, sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do when you’re up there and can’t get no money,” Spiller said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to go that route and yeah, of course, I had to do what I had to do and I got a little something.”
Spiller, a former state champion quarterback and long jumper at Killeen High School, estimated he took between $30,000 and $40,000 from an agent’s runner in an eight- to nine-month span during his sophomore year at the University of Houston.
Spiller and seven other student-athletes lost their scholarships after an NCAA investigation ruled they had accepted money from UH alumni. Spiller estimated he received less than $5,000 from the alumni, taking “$150 here and $150 there,” he said.
He finished his collegiate career at Howard Payne and was picked up by the San Diego Chargers. When he received his NFL signing bonus, Spiller said he paid off his debt to the agent.
“Of course, my draft status went down as far as when I was at the University of Houston because of the investigation, but I had a nice little signing bonus and broke (my agent) off a little something,” Spiller said. “That’s why I really don’t feel too bad about it because I didn’t take a whole lot and I gave it back and I still had money left over.”
Spiller didn’t necessarily need what the agent offered.
He received his stipend check from the university as well as money from his parents when he called and asked for it.
Spiller ran through it all, he said, trying to maintain the standard of living he was used to when he lived at home.
“Some parents don’t have that. I can’t say that my parents really didn’t,” Spiller said. “I would go through (my stipend check) and my parents would send me some money and I’d go through that. Then, here we go, it’s square one again.”
Spiller added that his former Killeen and UH teammate, receiver Charles West, stretched his stipend check to last the entire month.
He also witnessed former UH quarterback David Klingler turn down a new truck that contained a duffle bag full of money that was offered by an agent.
“There’s a lot of people that can’t really make that option,” he said. “If they’re putting trucks and stuff in front of people’s faces that never had a vehicle before in their life, then that’s a hard decision.”
David Winbush, who went on to a record-setting successful career at Kansas (1997-2000) after rushing for an area-best 4,800 yards and 40 touchdowns at Ellison, said he never encountered agents offering him money.
“Personally, in my position, knowing what I had to risk … I never wanted my family or my town to read, ‘David Winbush, former Ellison star, has been kicked off the team for breaking NCAA rules,’ and bring so much embarrassment or shame,” Winbush said. “But I was never in any situations where I needed money.”
The same was true for former Copperas Cove and Notre Dame standout Vontez Duff, a highly-rated recruit coming out of high school who had a brief flirtation with the NFL in 2004, and former Killeen running back Dion Marrion, who was the MVP of the Roos 1991 5A state championship and played at the University of New Mexico.
“It’s hard for a kid to initially say ‘no,’ even if it is against NCAA rules,” Winbush added. “Nobody is thinking about the NCAA in the beginning, in my opinion, they have to say, ‘Hey, I want to help my family, I want to be able to survive, I want to not have to call Mom and Dad and ask for money.'”
Passing or taking
For some it is a hard decision and the agents don’t make it an easy one, either. Duff turned to his former Copperas Cove teammate and current Chicago Bear, Charles Tillman.
“You have to have people you either grew up around, that can guide you, somebody that you can talk to,” Duff said. “When I was in school, I basically got in contact with Charles.
“He was a year before me, so I left all that stuff alone until I knew it was time (to go pro).”
Agents, Spiller said, often don’t wait for you make that decision.
While he didn’t see his decision to take the money as that hard, those that do wish to say ‘no, thank you’ are hounded by the agents.
“You tell them ‘No,’ and they’ll be like, ‘Who’s going to know about it?’ They kind of convince you that everything’s your little secret between you two or you three, if they’ve got a runner,” Spiller said. “Some agents are bold. They want to come up in your face and they don’t care, especially if they know you’re going first- or second-round. They’re coming to get you.”
Spiller laughs about it now because neither the agents, nor the NCAA can get him now. He’s paid up. So is Othello Henderson.
While Spiller doesn’t regret taking the money like Henderson, they both agree that agents and athletes should remember college sports is first about college courses.
“I figure, if the agents are out of the way, you’ll be more involved in your books than trying to get an agent, trying to get to the league,” Spiller said. “But, when you’ve got somebody in your head at an early age saying, ‘you can go in the second round right now,’ you’re automatically thinking big dollars. Without them, your focus will be mainly on the purpose at-hand.”
Maybe a college degree is not a front-page story, but making the front page isn’t always a good thing.
Alex Byington contributed to this story.