Last week, Florida State Seminoles running back James Wilder Jr. announced that he would be bypassing his senior season in Tallahassee and will be taking his talents off to the 2014 NFL Draft to go and get paid for making defenders sorry that they decided to take him head on.
That is what has defined Wilder’s time at Florida State–making defenders pay for their decision to come at him head-to-head, a decision which most times did not go in their favor.
Wilder arrived on the FSU campus back in 2011, where you can just feel that he was going to make an immediate impact on this Seminoles offense. The son of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back James Wilder Sr. was here for a purpose.
In his true freshman season, Wilder saw action in all 12 games, and you couldn’t help but instantly fall in love with his bruising rushing style. In his first season in the offense, Wilder was second on the team in yards per rush, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
As a freshman, he also saw some significant time on the field in nearly all phases of the special teams, cementing himself on the punt coverage, kickoff and kickoff return teams.
Indeed it was a debut season instantly where we knew that there was something special brewing, and in his sophomore season of 2012, we saw exactly that.
Wilder’s sophomore season was undoubtedly the best of his time in Tallahassee. Splitting time in the backfield with Chris Thompson and Devonta Freeman, Wilder was third on the team in rushing yards with 635, and he also averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
While he may not have blown anyone away with a 1,000-yard rushing season, he did with the fact that when you wanted the football in the end zone, Wilder put it there. In 2012, he finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 11 rushing touchdowns, plus he also notched two receiving touchdowns to go along with his 136 yards catching the rock.
He would go on to be named the MVP of the 2012 ACC Championship Game, rushing for 69 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns as the Seminoles made their March toward the Orange Bowl.
But, stats aside, there is one moment from not only his sophomore season, but his entire career that everyone will remember the most.
In an early season showdown with the Clemson Tigers, Florida State had fought all the way back from a big first-half deficit to take a 35-31 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Looking to kill the clock a little bit, Jimbo Fisher decided to put the ball in the hands of his hammer, who then proceeded to not only kill the clock, but nearly every Clemson defender in his path:
No doubt, that will be what everyone will remember from the 6-2, 230-pound bruiser.
His final season in 2013 may have seen a drop in production from that 2012 campaign, but Wilder was still a key force in helping the ‘Noles grasp their first national championship since 1999.
In ’13, the junior racked up 536 yards and eight touchdowns as he split time with Freeman once again and also the safety-turned-running back Karlos Williams.
Overall, though, Wilder was one of the main reasons that this Florida State program got back to where they are now. He embodied that old Seminoles attitude from those dominant days of the 90s–yes, especially with the way he rolled the jersey up.
He brought a toughness to that football field that had been lacking during the ‘Lost Decade’ and there’s no question that he rubbed off on a lot of his teammates.
Bottom line: James Wilder Jr., as a whole, embodies what a Florida State football player should be and he will be sorely missed for that.