Toronto Argonauts running back James Wilder Jr. has been grabbing headlines with his dominant play in the second half of 2017. Everyone knew the amount of talent and potential within him, being named the number one athlete in high school. At that time he was playing running back and linebacker. His athleticism has made it difficult for opposing defenses to stop, which given a much need boast to the Argos offence. This is a reason why the double blue are true playoff contenders come November. The evolution of Wilder gives Toronto a legitimate super star in the making. He is simply special.
Before Wilder broke out onto the scene he had to learn the Canadian game. It takes a while for players coming from the NCAA or NFL to do this. Rightfully so. He had to do this in order to earn the trust of head coach Marc Trestman. The first place to win a coach over is on special teams. The 25-year-old’s high motor and a relentless pursuit of the ball-carrier was showcased early in the season. Wilder said he takes pride being on special teams in the past.
James Wilder Jr. Is Simply Special
While he was doing that, the Argos struggled in the ground game. They ranked second last, only ahead of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats by Week 12. This makes an offense fairly predictable to defend. Their record reflected it at 4-6.
Even before this, the Argos historically struggled running the football consistently. They haven’t had a true playmaker at the position since Micheal ‘Pinball’ Clemons. When veteran Brandon Whitaker was unable to play against the Edmonton Eskimos, Wilder penciled in. The Florida State product got his opportunities to start early on in the season but did not make an impact. This time the story experienced a twist.
The former College National Champion burst out in Week 13. On just 11 carries he dashed for 190 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown. He also added 67-yards in the passing game. Wilder followed up the performance against the Alouettes with an 85-yard touchdown run for a total of 141 rushing yards and 77 receiving yards. To put the cherry on top, the Argos won both games. What impressed coach Trestman and Ray were his pass blocking skills. He gave Ray more time in the pocket to deliver a strike down the field.
Continued Strong Play
In the five games he has played since Week 13, Wilder tallied 546 rushing yards and 350 receiving yards. Toronto holds a record of 4-1 in during that time. These type of numbers are unheard off, especially if you put them into context. Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris is attempting to be the first player in CFL history to hit a thousand yards on the ground and in the air.
Well, if one projects James Wilder Jr.’s number through a full season, he would have accomplished the milestone in a mere 14 games. The impact of Wilder in the backfield makes quarterback Ricky Ray’s life easier. With team’s thinking about the run, Ray has thrown for over 300-yards in each of the previous four contest.
It is easy to look at stats and make the assumption of who is a good player. In order to be a truly special player, the character needs to be taken into consideration.
Character defines who a person is. Similar to actions speak a louder than words. A perfect example of how Wilder puts the team first is his hustle. In the Week 18s victory over the Blue Bombers defensive lineman Tristan Okpalago picked off Ray in the red zone and had a clear path to the house. Instead, the tailback ran from the opposite of the field and tracked him down just in time. Winnipeg scored a play later, but that effort shows Wilder’s commitment to the team.
Another example is a family friend’s battle with breast cancer inspired Wilder to join the fight against cancer. The back pledged to donate one dollar for every rushing yard and $100 for every touchdown throughout the month of October. Some players running backs in the CFL joined the cause, as well as some NFL players. Most notable names are former college teammates Atlanta Falcons back Devonta Freeman and Washington Redskins back Chris Thompson. Also joining the cause are Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Wilder wasn’t forced to run over 100 runs to stop a touchdown or start the initiative to fight cancer. He did it on his own. That’s the type of character of a special player.
If the past two months hold any indication of Wilder’s projected development, the Argonauts may have found their next superstar back. He checks all the boxes physically, mentality and most importantly his character.
James Wilder Jr. is a special player in the making.
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