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Newcomer James Wilder Jr. looking to catch on with Toronto Argonauts

TORONTO — It's not hard to pick out James Wilder Jr. at the Toronto Argonauts training camp. At six foot three and 232 pounds, the 25-year-old Tampa native is the biggest running back on the CFL team's roster.
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TORONTO — It's not hard to pick out James Wilder Jr. at the Toronto Argonauts training camp.

At six foot three and 232 pounds, the 25-year-old Tampa native is the biggest running back on the CFL team's roster. Wilder is also bigger than most of Toronto's linebackers, something the former Florida State star plans to use to his advantage in trying to crack the Argos' lineup.

"I want to bring that big size element," he said following Monday's two workouts at York University. "I'm probably the biggest guy on the field besides the linemen so I think I can bring something extra special to this offence.

"The linebackers here are about 220 (pounds) and I'm 230 . . . so getting out in space with those guys I think would bring me to the next level."

Securing time in Toronto's backfield won't come easily. Heading up the Argos' depth chart at running back is Brandon Whitaker, an eight-year CFL veteran who was the league's second-leading rusher last year (1,009 yards, 5.4-yard average and three TDs) while adding 81 catches for 549 yards and four touchdowns.

Another area Wilder could excel is on special teams, something he said allowed him to spend three seasons in the NFL before signing with Toronto in March.

Wilder comes by his football prowess honestly. His father, James, was an NFL running back for 10 seasons with Tampa Bay, Washington and Detroit, rushing for 6,008 yards in 129 career games.

The elder Wilder remains Tampa Bay's career rushing leader with 5,957 yards and 37 TDs over nine seasons (1981-89). And a clear indication that pro football is indeed a small world, new Argos head coach Marc Trestman was the Buccaneers quarterbacks coach in 1987.

"That was so long ago, my long-term memory isn't that good . . . but I do remember him," Trestman said of Wilder Sr. "They're similar in size, they're long, rangy guys and as I remember his dad he was a great man and a very good player.

"He (Wilder Jr.) is an exciting prospect . . . he's here because we're excited about him and we're excited about all these guys. It's clear he loves football and wants to be a part of this thing and he's certainly going to have a good chance to do that."

Growing up around football, Wilder Jr. develop a love for the game at a very early age.

"My dad always told me to play for the love of the game," he said. "The money is just an extra thing that comes with it and when you really have a love for the game, I mean, you don't want to stop until they force you to retire.

"Kids were growing up watching cartoons, I was growing up watching my pop's highlight film and watching football. I've loved it since I was one year old."

Wilder enjoyed a productive collegiate career, helping Florida State capture the '13 NCAA title. He appeared in 39 games over three seasons with the Seminoles (2011-13), rushing for 1,375 yards and 20 TDs.

After being bypassed in the 2014 NFL draft, Wilder Jr. went to the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent, spending two seasons on the practice roster. He signed with the Buffalo Bills in January 2016 but was released Sept. 2.

Wilder admits he knew little about the CFL before signing with Toronto but got the thumbs up from his father about coming to Canada.

"His word has the most power in my life with anything to do with football," Wilder said. "We talked about it when I first came to this league and he agreed with it.

"He thought it would be good for me to be able to play and get more film out being part of a good team like this. I'm very excited."

Wilder has had to adjust to a different game with Toronto, most notably the longer, wider field, one less down and an extra player. And on special teams, there's giving returners five yards while covering punts.

But Wilder said he's been able to overcome those challenges.

"You get used to it once you study it and get out here and get running it," he said. "At the end of the day, it's football."

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press




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