When running back James Wilder Jr was released by the Toronto Argonauts on November 25 of last year, he had two things in mind:
a) Pursue other opportunities South of the border
b) If option A didn’t work out, join a system that would allow him to be the powerhouse we all know he can be.
On January 30, as he inked his contract with our Montreal Alouettes, James chose option B, a choice he says is precisely the kind of fresh start he needed.
“It’s the perfect match,” he believes. “I think, last year, a lot of guys around the league were envious of the coach and player relationship that they had here in Montreal. You could tell by how the players were behaving and performing on the field that they were having fun just doing what they do and competing. You could see they were really playing for their coaches.“
2017 Wilder or 2019 Wilder?
Now, the question is will we get the 2017 version of James Wilder Jr or his 2019 version? At his first season in the circuit, in 2017, James was awarded the trophy for Rookie of the Year days before helping the Toronto Argonauts hoist the Grey Cup. Coming off the bench for injured Brandon Whitaker, the sturdy back ran for 872 yards and five touchdowns in 122 carries and 17 games played. He averaged a more than respectable 7.1-yard per carry and literally bulldozed through opposing defences, catching the attention of fans across the league. Standing at 6’3, 221 lbs, he was an NFL-type back guys were secretly afraid to tackle. He was a force to be reckoned with.
But his production decreased in the two following years. In 2019, he totalled 464 yards in 14 games played in an offence that just didn’t seem to suit his style of play.
“The 2019 Wilder isn’t anything I want to represent,” he says. “I want to be that guy who was getting the number of touches to get rolling. As a powerback, you get stronger as the game goes, with more reps. Now that I have more experience, I can be even better than I was in 2017. I just need to be in a system that gives me that opportunity.“
Workhorse or one-two punch?
When looking at the success the Stanback/Johnson duo had last season, there is no doubt Khari Jones’s offence will give our new weapon something to work with. As a matter of fact, with Stanback pursuing his dream with the Las Vegas Raiders, James became an obvious choice for our Head Coach. He replaced a big workhorse with a big workhorse. Makes perfect sense. And with proven veteran Tyrell Sutton there to switch up the pace, our backfield may, once again, be one of the most threatening in the league.
“It’s a long season, so having two different types of backs with two different styles can really hurt some defence. At the same time, you’re always pushing each other. It makes the whole running back room better.“
When two highly competent guys fight for a spot, the level of competitiveness can, in fact, easily boost the enthusiasm in a room or on the field. Something both James and Sutty have done and witnessed throughout their respective careers, notably when competing against each other last year in Toronto. Should be an interesting training camp…
Until then, James is focused on finessing his quickness and acceleration, aiming to make more linebackers and defensive backs miss, as well as shopping for an apartment for his expecting wife and two youngest children. The busy bee is also pursuing many personal ventures such as a food truck and a clothing line. If you thought #getWILDER was just a hashtag, think twice. James’s energy is WILD.