He was one of the prized possessions of Florida State's 2011 recruiting class, but James Wilder has yet to live up to expectations.
The dynamic blue-chip prospect and the son of a former NFL star was rated by some scouting services as the best overall athlete in the country after playing both tailback and linebacker at Plant High School.
However, in his first season as a Seminole, Wilder struggled to get on the field and gain the confidence of the coaching staff. His inability to hit the correct hole created by the offensive line -- coupled with the emergence of fellow freshman ball carrier Devonta Freeman -- prevented him from gaining quality playing time.
This spring was supposed to be a chance for him to get ahead of his competition. Freeman is currently sidelined with a back injury, Chris Thompson is still wearing a blue no-contact jersey as he recovers from a back issue of his own and incoming talent Mario Pender is just getting a taste of what college football is all about.
Nonetheless, this spring hasn't jumped off to the start that Wilder had hoped.
The 6-2, 220-pounder was suspended following a confrontation involving a law enforcement officer back in February. He has just been reinstated after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor -- Wilder had originally been charged with two felonies -- on Wednesday.
Now, it's up to him to regain the trust and confidence of his teammates and coaches.
"We'll take care of everything internally now," said coach Jimbo Fisher following Thursday's practice. "He's still got some work to do for me, so we'll get that taken care of. He's doing well in school right now, so hopefully he'll learn from that and move on."
Learning will be a key part of Wilder's development.
Entering his second season as a member of the ‘Noles, the Tampa native is expected to be a bigger component of the offense. Missing most of spring practice has hindered his ability to progress.
"It hurts him because of where he's at in his development," Fisher said. "He's a young guy. Any time off the field for those young guys, it hurts them."
His time on the field is what will be judged, and that's probably the way Wilder wants it. With his off-the-field problems in the rearview mirror, Wilder went through his first practice Thursday.
Fisher was impressed with what he saw.
"His presence, his enthusiasm on the field and, boy, that big body running through there now, that's different," said Fisher. "The pounding he brings, and then he was running well on the outside, got outside well and caught a nice ball on the goal line for a touchdown."
Garnet-and-gold supporters are looking forward to moments of Wilder showing off the flashy athleticism that earned him five stars on the recruiting trail.
However, it's the things Wilder can do that don't show up on a stat sheet that will be important for him to showcase over the next week. Since he's finally back on the field after missing the first nine spring workouts, the learning can move at a greater pace.
"At running back to now, winning the national championship at LSU with two freshman running backs, sometimes you learn when you run the ball," Fisher said, recalling some of the success he had as an assistant in Baton Rouge before coming to Tallahassee. "When you're not running it, there's a lot of things you got to do in pass protection."
The hope is that Wilder grows in many areas better than he did last season.
And that is certainly a lot easier when he's a part of the roster again.
Matt Ritter is a football and basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com, as well as a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.
Wilder has to earn back respect
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