Spartanburg — There was a vacant lot just down the street from where Spartanburg High School running back Tavien Feaster grew up on which the young boys in his neighborhood would go to prove their manhood.
high School: Spartanburg
Position: Running Back
Height: 5-11 Weight: 195
College: Committed to Clemson
Accolades: 2015 South Carolina Mr. Football. 2015 Gatorade South Carolina Player of the Year. State track champion in 100- and 200-meter races.
Year Att. Yards TDs
2015 155 1,121 10
2014 133 1,153 15
2013 171 1,429 15
Total 459 3,703 40
Year Rec. Yards TDs
2015 64 976 12
2014 45 1,016 11
2013 44 723 12
Total 153 2,715 35
It was there that Feaster, his older brother Trey McCree and their friends would gather for informal games of tackle football. The lot was mostly grass, but rocks and broken glass could be found spread over the field.
At 8 or 9 years old, Feaster was a couple of years younger than most of the boys who played in those games, boys were already veterans of the local Pop Warner youth football leagues.
“They’d play a Pop Warner game and then come back to the neighborhood and the losing team would want a rematch,” Feaster said. “Because I was the youngest, I always had to play with the losing team.”
Getting tackled was not an option for Feaster, who was one of the smallest players on the field. And the rocks and glass were an added incentive to stay off the ground.
“The first time I played, I remember coming home with a busted lip,” Feaster said with a chuckle. “I told my mom that I didn’t think football was for me. I didn’t want to play anymore. I still have scars and bruises from playing on that field. You had to be tough to play back then.”
But Feaster did return to the field and found that the best way to survive was not to get tackled at all. It was the beginning of a running style that would mold Feaster into one of the top running backs in the country and the No. 1 high school football prospect in South Carolina. Feaster, who was named South Carolina’s Mr. Football in December, verbally committed to play next season at Clemson and will sign with the Tigers on Wednesday on National Signing Day.
“I didn’t realize it back then, but those games were getting me ready for football later on,” Feaster said. “I didn’t like to get tackled. Most of the kids were bigger than me, and you never knew what you might fall on. So, I just never let them tackle me.”
Over the past three seasons at Spartanburg High, Feaster compiled more than 6,400 yards of total offense and scored 75 touchdowns. The 5-11, 195-pound senior has a unique skill set that separates him from most high school running backs. He has the power and strength to run over a defender, the speed of a sprinter and the hands of a wide receiver. He can line up in the backfield one play and then jump in the slot as a wide receiver on the next. Feaster is the two-time 100- and 200-meter track champion, turning in a state record 21.11 time in the 200.
“Tavien is a three-down back,” said Spartanburg coach Chris Miller. “He can run between the tackles and get that tough yard on third down or take it the distance if he gets a crease. He can split out wide and catch the ball as good as any receiver. And then he’s got that gear, that extra gear that I’ve never seen before. He can stop on a dime, make you miss, then be at full speed in two steps. That’s what makes him so special.”
They don’t let just anyone carry the football at Spartanburg High School. It’s a position that former NFL All-Pro Stephen Davis made legendary back in the early 1990s leading the Vikings to a state championship and earning USA Today offensive player of the year honors.
“It’s running back U,” Feaster said with a smile. “You’ve got to earn the right to be a running back here and keep up the tradition. I know Stephen Davis. He made sure I understood what it means to be the running back here and to keep the tradition going.”
Miller has seen his share of great running backs come through Spartanburg County. When he was at Byrnes High, Miller coached against Davis, and he coached former South Carolina star Marcus Lattimore.
Miller is convinced that Feaster is just as good as Davis and Lattimore.
“He’s right up there with those guys,” Miller said. “He’s probably a little more shifty than Stephen and a little faster than Marcus. He’s not as big as those guys, but he’s more elusive.”
Feaster is also being compared to another multi-dimensional Clemson running back — C.J. Spiller.
“I’m Tavien Feaster,” Feaster said. “I understand why people compare me to C.J. and Marcus, and it’s an honor to be compared to those guys. But I can’t be those guys, I’ve just got to be the best Tavien Feaster I can be.”
Feaster, who missed a couple of games this past season with injuries, didn’t put up eye-popping numbers last fall. He rushed for 1,121 yards, averaging more than eight yards a carry. Miller said defenses were so intent on stopping Feaster that he used him as a wide receiver or a decoy on many plays. Feaster caught a career-high 64 passes for 976 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“The defense would put eight, nine guys in the box to stop him, so we just starting lining him up at wide receiver,” Miller said. “We tried to come up with different ways to get him the football. Tavien’s a team guy. He didn’t care where we put him. We even played him some at safety this season.”
Feaster said he has stayed in touch with both Lattimore and Davis over the years. Both gave him some advice during the recruiting process, he said.
“They just kept telling me to go where I felt most comfortable,” Feaster said. “That’s why I picked Clemson. It has to be more than just football. College is going to be your home for the next four years. It can’t always be about business. I felt like Clemson was home for me.”
Feaster should be able to make a seamless transition into Clemson’s spread offense next season, said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell.
“Tavien is a perfect fit for what Clemson likes to do,” Farrell said. “He’s has the size and speed to be a three-down back, but he’s also a guy that can catch the ball out of the backfield. It’s almost like he’s a receiver playing running back.”
“Clemson really knows how to utilize a player with Tavien’s skillset. There are going to get him in space where he’s going to be a tough matchup for any defense.”