First of all, I'd like to say that I would rather have James Wilder Jr. committed to play for the 'Noles than ANY player in this class. Call me dumb and say Jadaveon Clowney is better or that Steward is more important, or whatever you want to say, but when I saw the Friday Night Football magazine came out, I threw up at the thought that we could strike out on the cover. Then it happened, we came out of nowhere (literally) and STOLE a recruit from UF; a feat of such magnitude that the story made the front page of YAHOO.COM. I'm not talking about Yahoo Sports, I'm talking about the main website. It also graced the front page of most, if not all recruiting and sport media outlets.
If you didn't catch the game on ESPN yesterday, Wilder's Tampa Plant high school got wamboozled and shellacked by the Hurricanes of Manatee. I mean this was not even a good football game... it looked like a JV team against a top varsity football program. The final score was 48-10 and I, without the slightest of hesitations, will tell you that if you watched the game, it seemed worse than that somehow. And then there was Wilder...
I might actually be the first person to tell you that I was IMPRESSED with him after watching this game. Let me explain to you why in a list format with clever starting letters/numbers/symbols:
A: He was injured. If you watched the game and didn't notice that... well I just don't understand how. He went down on a play in the second quarter and after taking a while to get up, was limping around for the rest of the game for the most part. But he is a man, in both a literal and body composition sense, and he sucked it up and played. I'm not making excuses for the kid, but when you're in on 80+% of snaps, you're bound to tweak things here or there. It's probability.
2: He's not a running back... yet. He runs upright. We get it. He's also in high school, he hasn't been 100% dedicated to running back yet, and once he puts his focus full time on training for and most importantly LEARNING the running back position from one of, if not THE best coaches for that position in the country (Eddie Gran), then he will start playing more like the wild (pun intended) expectations that everyone has for him. If you really think that Gran won't teach him 100 things that he doesn't already know now, then you're nuts.
D: I don't know if anyone else noticed, but he looked like a monster on the field, from a physically imposing standpoint. He's got the body to play right away in college, and he clearly has a football work ethic, or he wouldn't look like Adrian Peterson as a freakin 17 year old kid. He may not be the fastest player ever right now, but believe you me, once he starts training for speed in college that will change, and in large part because...
Æ: He's wasting his time right now. If he is really so dedicated to playing running back and NOT linebacker - at ALL - so as to commit to Florida State instead of his long time favorite in order to do so full-time, then we are not going to get to see the full future James Wilder Jr. yet. When I say he is wasting his time, I mean by splitting time between running back and linebacker. It takes extra energy, extra attention/focus and extra preparation to be able to play another position (on the opposite side of the ball especially), let alone well enough to get you ranked as the #3 overall player in the COUNTRY. I mean, he is and has spent at least equal, if not more time on his linebacking skills up until this point, and in order to fully harness the physical possibility that he holds, he needs to devote himself full time to the position. But the kid is such a player and so dedicated to his team, that he is doing everything he can to help them win at the cost of him not being as maximally prepared for college as possible - and let's face it, the kid is so physically dominant at 17 that he can probably afford to.
Lastly: He had 87 yards on 15 carries for an average of 5.8 yards per carry. You might say that you would expect more out of such a highly touted recruit, but let me make it clear how bad Plant was in this game. Their offensive line was about as pathetic as any line I've seen... on any level. I would venture to guess that you could take Rodney Smith, Willie Haulstead, Lonnie Pryor, Debrale Smiley and Jermaine Thomas, line them up as Plant's offensive line, and they would've done a better job - hell they couldn't have done worse. And their QB was downright miserable. I honestly felt bad for the kid, because with a line like that, he was getting POUNDED all night. He finished the night 6-21 for 153 yards and a touchdown, and if you take out the TD play in their first series, you're looking at 5-20 for 73 yards. Without a passing game to help set up the run, or at least give the defense some question as to what Plant was going to do, the run game was bound to be held in check. I mean, Manatee's players were in the backfield on every play. Having said that, Wilder still averaged nearly six a carry, and showed some flashes, converting a fourth and inches with a determined eight yard run, and making a good block to set up the screen play score in the first quarter.
For those of you that like math, here's a formula you should take into account when thinking about Wilder:
JWJ + Eddie Gran + Committed to playing RB full-time + Offensive Line + Passing Game = Special
Don't kid yourself from this one game, which really wasn't that bad. He didn't put the ball on the floor, he didn't miss blocking assignments as far as I can tell, and he didn't try to bounce everything outside and try things that weren't there. Yes, he ran upright, but he didn't hesitate and he hit the hole. It just so happened that Manatee knew this was going to happen, because Plant had nothing else going for them. Oh and if a Gator friend of yours tries to tell you about how Wilder didn't bring Blakely (likely Gator from what I've read) to the ground on that one play, en route to a long score, just feel free to remind them that they'll be having the same problem when JWJ is running over their linebackers in a year... because at that point Wilder will be a full-time RB. Get excited.