Argos James Wilder Jr. sets sights on record-breaking season

James Wilder Jr. is setting the bar high for his second CFL season.

The rugged running back captured the league’s top rookie honour and helped the Toronto Argonauts win a Grey Cup in 2017. This year, the former Florida State star wants to celebrate another championship and get his name in the CFL record book.

“The team goal is first, that’s the Grey Cup again,” Wilder said. “My individual goal is to try to be the first player to get 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving.

“Now, some people come out and say, ‘You’re getting a little too arrogant, maybe a little too cocky.’ But I think it’s me showing the belief and confidence I have in my offensive line, coaching staff and quarterback.”

Wilder and the rest of the Argos will report to training camp May 20 at York University.

The six-foot-three, 227-pound Wilder enjoyed a stellar rookie season with Toronto. After starting the year playing primarily special teams, Wilder became the Argos’ starting running back and in 10 starts ran for 872 yards (7.2-yard average) and five TDs while adding 51 catches for 533 yards.

Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris, the CFL’s top Canadian last season, narrowly missed out achieving the rare double-double. The Winnipeg native ran for a league-high 1,035 yards and registered 105 catches – a record for a running back – for 857 yards.

Wilder comes by his football prowess honestly. His father was a former NFL running back with Tampa Bay (1981-89), Washington (1990) and Detroit (1990) and remains the Buccaneers all-time rushing leader (5,957 yards).

Wilder joined the Argos last season after NFL stints with the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. The 26-year-old Tampa native said he learned quickly in 2017 how physically demanding Canadian football is, and having a year of it under his belt will make a huge difference in 2018.

“When I came in last year, I was 233 (pounds) and I had to figure out how fast the game is and how wide the field is,” he said. “I’d say now I started last season what I’d call overweight because I’m 227 pounds and will get down to 225.

“Just being comfortable with the field makes a big difference because the size itself changes a lot with taking running and route angles and there’s getting used to the 12th man. It takes getting used to when you’ve been playing a different game your whole life.”

Wilder said he enjoys playing on the Canadian field because it gives him more room to run and react to clearly establish running lanes. And trying to defend against Wilder is no easy feat, be it as a runner or receiver.

Wilder is a strong north-south runner who accelerates quickly and is tough to bring down after crossing the line of scrimmage. But in the pass game, he can create mismatches against opposing linebackers and defensive backs alike with his speed and physicality, respectively.

“That’s the mindset I have, for sure,” he said. “If it’s running the ball, I know my O-line’s got me and if it’s throwing the ball I know Ricky (starter Ricky Ray) knows how to set it up just nice.”

There was a time this off-season when it appeared Wilder wouldn’t return. In January, he announced he was sitting out 2018 to safeguard against injury after the Argos wouldn’t let him out of the final year of his CFL contract to pursue NFL opportunities.

Two months later, Wilder signed a two-year extension with Toronto through the 2019 season.

“I don’t think it was really nasty on either part, it was just part of the business,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re trying to get things figured out it takes a little longer.

“But once you get it figured out and everybody is happy I think that’s the biggest thing because you play better when you’re happy and your organization trusts you more and feels better about you when they’re happy.”