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Friday, Apr 18, 2014

For FSU's Wilder, expectation now reality

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Published:   |   Updated: January 6, 2014 at 06:40 AM

PASADENA, Calif. — He was one of the most dominant high school football players in Hillsborough County history.

Amid much fanfare, as a five-star recruit, he signed with Florida State University.

But James Wilder Jr., the former Plant High standout, never became a Heisman Trophy candidate or an All-American for the Seminoles. Now he's on a roster crowded with great players, all eager for playing time.

Wilder, a junior running back, has enjoyed some great moments with FSU. He hopes the greatest of all occurs tonight, when the Seminoles (13-0) face the Auburn Tigers (12-1) in the BCS Championship Game at the Rose Bowl.

“That would be a great way to go out, wouldn't it?'' Wilder said.

Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue, practically speaking about his FSU career in the past tense. He made it no secret, though. After tonight's game, Wilder will take a long look at early entry into the NFL draft.

“He has to take things in order and he knows that,'' FSU running backs coach Jay Graham said. “Right now, we're getting ready for the game. After that, think about your future and what you want to do. Don't try to do them both at once because that gets too confusing.

“James has his priorities in order. He will play a key role, like he always does.''

Wilder, a 6-foot-2, 229-pounder, has rushed for 542 yards (6.9-yard average) and eight touchdowns after battling through some early season injuries. He had 10 rushes for 63 yards — both season-highs — in a 37-7 win at Florida.

FSU's backfield depth never has permitted a high-volume performance. Wilder, who had a career high for carries (16 against Wake Forest) in 2012, shares duties with Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams.

“I'd go into battle any time with James Wilder,'' FSU freshman quarterback Jameis Winston said.

“Look at the guy,'' Freeman said. “If you were a DB (defensive back), would you want to tackle him?''

Probably not.

Wilder always has looked the part. For Plant, he was a primary ball-carrier and a havoc-creator on defense, causing some to wonder why might have happened if he became a linebacker at FSU.

“Trust me, I heard he was a great defensive player,'' Graham said with a laugh. “If you don't believe it, he'll tell you. I think he's a much better runner — period.''

“If they want to put me on defense, I'd do it,'' Wilder said. “I'm one of those guys who just loves the game. I don't care about my role. I really don't. I just want to win.''

Graham acknowledged that Wilder is one of the team's most unselfish players and he “brings the most energy when he's not in the game of any player I've ever been around.'' Wilder has 1,337 career rushing yards (6.0-yard average) and 20 touchdowns, tied for ninth-most in FSU history.

“I do not regret anything about being here,'' Wilder said. “I think I've grown as a player and a person. When all of us signed (in the 2011 recruiting class), we talked about playing for a championship. This was the expectation, getting to this game and winning it. Can you imagine how great it would be?''

It would be an outstanding accomplishment and, perhaps, a perfect exit.

 

jjohnston@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7353

Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO

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