In Cincinnati, James Wilder is the name of a young Bengals running back fighting to make the roster.
In Tampa, that name is football royalty.
James Wilder Sr. is the leading rusher in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history (5,957 yards) and the former NFL record holder for most rushing attempts in a game (43) and in a season (407).
“People always tell me great things about him,” said James Jr. “They say if I’m half of what he was, then I’m pretty darn good. To follow in his footsteps and do the kinds of things that he did in his career is my goal.
“I grew up watching him all the time on tape. He retired before I was born, but that’s who I idolized and modeled my game after. Same size, same height, same playing style.”
“He’s a very determined kid,” said James Sr. “Ever since he’s been playing ball with the Boys and Girls Club he’s been very determined and that continued in high school and college. He’s a hard worker. I’m saying he’ll be better than I was if he gets the opportunity.
“Gosh, his athleticism and preparation are a whole lot better. The game is faster; the guys are a lot stronger, so physically he’s ahead of me. It’s just the mental aspect of getting to know the game.”
James Jr. was a member of Florida State’s 2013 National Championship team and averaged 6.0 yards per carry in his three years with the Seminoles. The Bengals signed the 6’3”, 232 pound running back as a college free agent last year and Wilder spent his rookie season on their practice squad.
“It took a toll on me mentally,” said James Jr. “I’ve never been in a position where I was toward the bottom of the depth chart trying to work my way up. I’ve always started out near the top of the depth chart. But talking with the coaches and talking to my dad, you just have to be unselfish and control what you can control. Every time your number is called, go out and do what you’re supposed to do and handle your business.”
“I’ve seen a lot of growth,” said James Sr. “I’ve seen him adapt and see what it takes to prepare himself now that he has that year under his belt.”
In Cincinnati’s preseason opener against the New York Giants, Wilder led the Bengals with 14 carries for 53 yards, including a two-yard touchdown.
“I thought I did well,” he said. “Watching the film, there were a lot of things I can polish up – I left a few yards out there and things like that. There are a few things that I can fix. That’s what the film is for and that’s what practice is for.”
“He’s got to have the confidence that every time he touches the ball he’s going to make something happen,” said James Sr.
This coming Monday night, James Jr. says it will be a dream come true when he plays in the same NFL stadium where his father spent the final two seasons of his nine years with the Buccanneers.
“Growing up always being around it and the fact that Pops played there, it was definitely a dream of mine to be able to play there,” said James Jr.
And he’ll do it with his father in attendance.
“He definitely informed me that he’ll be on the Bucs side in a Bengals jersey,” said James Jr. with a grin. “I’m sure he’s going to hear about it a little bit if he does that.”
“Hopefully he can do what he does best,” said James Sr. “I’m behind him 100 percent.”
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