Not that long ago, many had their doubts about James Wilder and whether he was going to make it as a running back at FSU. He had some off-the field growing pains. He didn’t seem to be making the contributions on the field that he, and his coaches, expected. Many were already calling for him to switch to linebacker. Wilder came here to play running back, however, and he was dead set on finishing what he started.
Last year, it clicked. Call it the maturation process that every person must go through–and fortunately for Wilder, his came sooner. Last year, Wilder proved that he could take over a game if asked–see his runs last year against Clemson. Wilder also has the maturity to know when to be patient, that his time will come.
That time for Wilder is now. I’d argue that Wilder will do even better now under Coach Graham’s tutelage and he may even approach 1,000 yards this season. Now, I’m not sold on him doing so — I think he has the ability to do so, but I like keeping our running backs fresh. I think Chris Thompson was overused last year–e.g., see the NC State game. So, to be clear, while I think Wilder could do it, I don’t think it is a good idea. Each running back, and their health, is critical to our success this year.
Not to discredit Coach Eddie Gran, but Wilder is right–Coach Graham can actually show the players what to do, not just tell them how to do it. And as Wilder alluded to, Graham is showing the running backs how to be better running backs within their own styles. How to lean, how to use their weight. Coach Graham laid down a serious challenge: “if you don’t want to be great, don’t worry about making the extra meetings.” The players, however, have laid down an even bigger challenge: “make it hard on the coaches.”
I want to digress for a moment because I was blown away by the maturity of James Wilder and the players on this team, in general. The maturity of Jimbo Fisher’s players is tremendous. He’s not just teaching them how to be football players, but also how to be exemplary young men. This comment may irk many, but we had our fair share of off-the-field issues under Bobby Bowden’s watch. Not all of those were directly his fault, but I personally feel that Jimbo Fisher’s program has allowed the players to mature well beyond their years. For as folksy as Bobby Bowden was, Jimbo can get rather serious. And he’s serious about his players and their well-being. Something akin to a father-son relationship, a tough love approach. I’m sure I may be proven wrong somewhere along the line, but for all those who gripe about Fisher’s inability to beat a few underdogs over the years, take a step back and realize that he’s developing fine young men who will serve as ambassadors to FSU for years. And guys like Wilder should make you proud to call yourself a Nole.
Wilder made a great observation. The biggest challenge for the running backs this year may be just gaining familiarity with the quarterbacks–the hand-off technique, from QB to QB, will vary based on the height of the quarterback. I’m sure there will be growing pains (i.e., fumbles) early in the year, but that’s nothing practice can’t fix. Interestingly, he mentions Sean Maguire a lot. I will be careful not to read between the lines too much, but there’s something intriguing about Maguire, the quintessential dark horse.