TALLAHASSEE – James Wilder had a strangle hold on a prize possession as he entered the media interview room at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday night.
“I'll sleep with this tonight. This is going to be my girlfriend tonight,” said Wilder following his first 100-yard rushing performance as a Florida State Seminole. He rushed for 106 yards on 12 carries and was awarded the game ball after FSU ran over Murray State. The Seminoles racked up 285 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns during a 69-3 rout of the Racers.
It's something that had been a long time coming for the Tampa Plant product, who was the No. 1 prospect in the state for the 2010 recruiting class. Many said he was too big to play running back and most likely would end up being a college defensive end or linebacker.
Those people forgot who his father was. James Wilder Sr. was a 6-foot-3, 225-pound NFL running back whose career spanned 10 seasons and 6,000-plus yards, most of which he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“You don't really see a lot of backs 6-foot-2, 230,” Wilder said. “You don't really see a lot of backs who are that big anymore, but me, growing up, I always watched the backs that were that big like [Walter] Payton, my father, just big backs. . . . Earl Campbell, and I just feel like size doesn't really matter. If I have the drive to get to the end zone, then that's what's gonna get it done.”
He had the drive Saturday, reaching paydirt twice on runs of nine and seven yards as Florida State scored its most touchdowns on the ground since a six-touchdown performance by Seminole backs in a 69-21 rout of Maryland in 1992.
FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher and his crew were anxious to see how the running game had progressed after he put emphasis on improving a running attack that had averaged just 112.6 yards a game in 2011. That total was only good for 10th in the 12-team ACC and for a team loaded with talented wide receivers, it would surely help free up the passing game if the Seminoles could move the markers with quarterback E.J. Manuel just handing off.
“We have much more diversity in our running game and we have different kinds of backs and they all kinda bring something different to the table,” Fisher said. “I thought the offensive line did a real nice job. … we kept pounding that ball and pounding that ball and that's what we gotta do.”
Devonta Freeman added 64 yards rushing on 10 carries, Lonnie Pryor had three running touchdowns (1, 18 and 1 yard each) and Chris Thompson, returning from a serious back injury a year ago, added 32 yards on six carries.
Whether it’s the game that will boost Wilder into the running back of the future at FSU remains to be seen, but rest assured, Wilder will enjoy this one. He may never let go of that game ball.
“I’ve already bought the glass case and it’s sitting at home waiting for the ball,” he said. “My first game ball. It means a lot to me. My whole family is here. All the Wilders and we’re just going to go out to eat and celebrate. I been through a lot this summer and I just wanted to make sure I started this season off with a bang.”
He may want to start tomorrow off by buying a few more glass cases.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times