The bruising running back rushed for 1,613 yards and 22 touchdowns, leading Plant to the Florida 5A state title game this season. Wilder is also a standout linebacker but wants to play offense in college. He's committed to Florida St.Read More Below
Plant High's James Wilder Jr. possesses all the intangibles of a blue-chip linebacker. He's 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds with muscles that bulge from beneath his jersey. He's devastatingly powerful, prompting Rivals.com to label him "the strongest player in the country, regardless of position." Coupled with his explosive first step, it only makes sense that most schools approached him as one of the nation's top defensive recruits.
Florida State secured Wilder's commitment by realizing what many other schools didn't: he may be an even better running back.
"When I wasn't sure if I was gonna play running back or linebacker yet, everybody told me you have three years [of experience] for linebacker," he said. "But Florida State always wanted me as a running back."
In retrospect, it's easy to understand the Seminoles logic. Wilder's upright running style resembles a young Adrian Peterson and his tackle-breaking ability makes him nearly unstoppable in short-yardage downs. He's the son of former NFL Pro-Bowler James Wilder Sr., the feature back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1980s. Watching his game film, he's an unmistakable talent.
His offensive potential wasn't always so obvious. He spent his freshman and sophomore seasons playing defense exclusively, and from 2008-2010 racked up an astounding 363 tackles and 42 sacks. Despite his success, he thought he could generate a greater impact from the backfield, a move that was discouraged by many analysts and scouts.
"With people challenging me and saying that I can't do this at the next level, that I'm too big and all that, that motivates me," he said. "Most of it is just proving them wrong."
He's been successful to that end so far, rushing for a gaudy 1,613 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior. He headlined an offense that averaged just over 30 points per game and led the Panthers to their second straight Florida 5A championship berth. He also dazzled in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. His three-yard score with 4:14 remaining capped a 13-10 comeback victory for the East.
Wilder isn't dwelling on past accomplishments, though. He's eager to arrive in Tallahassee on June 26 and join a Seminoles team that went 10-4 in 2010. In addition to returning many of its key players, it will add a recruiting class that's widely regarded as one of the top three in the nation, boasting safety Karlos Williams and tight end Nick O'Leary among others.
"It's gonna be an amazing group of kids," said Wilder. "I'm just happy to be a part of it."
He's also excited to continue silencing his critics. Beginning the season opener against Charleston Southern, his goal is to overpower Division-I defenses the same way he did high school ones. He has a final message to send to all of his doubters.
"Everybody in college next year, you're gonna have to fear the spear."