Wilder Returning Home

When James Wilder Jr. takes the field at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, it will be the first time he's ever had the chance to play on the same field that his father, James Wilder, once played on. It's also something that looked a little far-fetched just a season ago.

Wilder played college football at the University of Missouri before being selected in the second round (34th overall) of the 1981 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

When you compare the two on film, it's pretty obvious where Jr. got his build from as well as who he modeled his running style after.

Coming out of high school Wilder Jr. was a very highly touted five-star recruit with offers from virtually every Division-1A program in the country, but the majority of schools wanted him as a linebacker.

Most recruiting analysts as well as coaches' saw his running style as too upright or saw him as being too big for the position at 6'2 and weighing 235 pounds.

That's where Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher thought differently as he recruited him at running back, the position Wilder Jr. loved most. "When I came up here, he told me he has had a lot of big backs, and that he really likes power-backs to run the ball," Wilder Jr. said. "Then you mix in coach Gran and his history with getting guys to the NFL, it was just perfect.

But after struggling to see the field a lot at running back in his freshman season and having difficulty learning the playbook, Wilder Jr. had not totally ruled out making the switch because at the end of the day he wants what's best for the team.

"I've always had that in the back of my mind," Wilder Jr. said. "Like, if this year I was still in the same situation where I couldn't get the playbook down, I have always had it in the back of my mind. I'm a team first kind of guy; I would definitely go over to linebacker to help the team out. "

It wasn't until some unfortunate off-the-field issues occurred this offseason that he realized just how much he loved the game and never wanted it to be taken from him again. Wilder set out to take advantage of every opportunity he has been given.

"Definitely, that's a big reason for it," Wilder Jr. said. "Every practice I make sure I go out there and have fun, because I know what it felt like at a time when my teammates were out there practicing and couldn't be. I know what it felt like for it to be taken away from me, and I just don't ever want to have that feeling again. It makes you realize how much you actually love the sport, and it helps you to take advantage of every minute."

Since that time he has put in the extra work in the film room and really been able to get a grasp on the offense, which is reflected in the product on the field.

Wilder Jr. leads the Seminoles' with six touchdowns this season, which also just happens to lead the ACC as well.

The majority of his rushing yards don't come from prototypical 50-yard scampers down the sidelines either.

His yards come from channeling that inner linebacker in him, running downhill, and often times seeing how many defenders he can take along for the ride.

"I just see the determination to not go down, and it's just something I have that's special," Wilder Jr. said. "I have had a couple runs where I am just bouncing off guys and using my height and long arms for stiff-arms. Just being the same size as linebackers makes it easier for me and that much harder for them."

Sometimes even quarterback E.J. Manuel can't help but become a fan for a brief moment, and watch some of the amazing things Wilder Jr. puts on display.

"He's a hammer, workhorse back there," Manuel said. "I was kind of in awe one of those times when there was like seven or eight guys on him and he just kept running. Even when they let him go he was still up. If he can continue to do that for us we're going to be very lethal."

At the end of the day, this newfound success for Wilder Jr. is nothing that anyone inside the program is shocked about, because the physical tools have always been there.

The only difference in him from a year ago, to now, is that he understands the system and has really bought into it.

"Well, I think that was from lack of knowledge," Fisher said. "That goes back to my issue: when you move in a new neighborhood, or going to see a buddy in a new neighborhood you go slow in the beginning. Then after you've been in there a few times you go faster and faster. Then all of a sudden the stop signs aren't there anymore, and then you get a ticket and everything goes haywire. But, I think it's the knowledge in what he's doing that is allowing him to play faster, see things, and know what he's looking at. I think that's the key, knowledge."


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