Argos running back James Wilder Jr. has taken the Canadian Football League by storm by becoming one of the best double-threat backs in the league.
Wilder, though, has remained humble. His first fumble of the season came in a 28-15 loss to B.C. on June 30, and he’d love to make up for mistake when the Argos visit the Lions this weekend.
“I’ve been looking forward to that game,” he said Monday.
Wilder has not fumbled the ball since then, a point of pride for the 25-year-old whose average of 7.1 yards per carry is first among the league’s top 20 rushers. But that one fumble led to Jeremiah Johnson rumbling into the end zone three plays later as the Lions pulled away in the fourth quarter. While the Argos could have used the points from that game, they’ll need them from the return match with B.C. on Saturday. Toronto is one point behind Ottawa for first place in the East, and can win the division with a win or a tie.
And they’ll be counting on Wilder, who has become one of their main weapons with 1,178 yards from scrimmage — 736 rushing, 442 receiving — despite being untried in the CFL when Argos coach Marc Trestman put him in the backfield. The son of James Wilder, the all-time leading rusher for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bumped veteran Brandon Whitaker to a backup role and worked at getting better each week.
“I always take it upon myself to improve,” the younger Wilder said. “You have to be humble, the second you get cocky is the second someone comes along and smacks you in the mouth. Coach (Trestman) told me (in June) when we hand you the ball, you have the whole team in your hand. It’s something you never want to forget.”
Wilder is living with three teammates — running back Martese Jackson, defensive back Brandon Harris and offensive lineman Brandon Washington — in what has become the Argos’ Florida connection. Wilder has the top floor of the three-story unit, Washington is the best cook and Harris pitches in with the cooking.
“At least I’m neat,” Wilder said.
The four, who are either from the Sunshine State or played college ball there, are together for more than their housekeeping skills.
“We motivate each other every day,” Wilder said. “One guy is there for the other, and the other, and so on … No one lets the other get out of line. It’s a pretty humble group and we help each other out as much as we can.”
Wilder has another motivational source in his father.
The elder Wilder had planned to attend an Argos game and see his son perform, but complications from the recent hurricane that struck the family’s Tampa home have delayed the visit.
“He’ll come to the Grey Cup, he said he’ll come to the Grey Cup,” Wilder said. “That’s where we have to get, that’s the right motivation I need.”
NOTES: The Argos are expecting slotback Anthony Coombs and defensive lineman Shawn Lemon back from injury this weekend. Linebacker Marcus Ball will miss one more game, but is expected back for the first game of the playoffs.