James Wilder Jr. brings ‘juice’ to Elks and dispels false ‘high maintenance,’ me first narrative

Photo courtesy: B.C. Lions

James Wilder Jr. has brought the ‘Get Wilder’ liveliness to Alberta’s capital city.

Since putting on the green and gold, Wilder Jr. has averaged over 100 rushing yards per game and leads the CFL in that category. He had his best performance yet with the Elks running 22 times for 127 yards in Edmonton’s 21-16 win in Week 3 at BC Place.

“One of the things that we talked about in training camp was every man has to bring the juice, every coach and every player because this game is played with a passion and an energy unlike any other game,” head coach Jaime Elizondo said.

That’s the way Wilder Jr. has played to start the season and it was no more apparent than on the Elks last drive of the game. He ran seven straight times for 58 yards during a clock-eating possession to allow QB Trevor Harris to close out in victory formation with a kneel down.

“Having a back like James where you can take the pressure off the quarterback and you can run the ball the way we did there at the end is phenomenal. To see that performance at the end, that’s who James Wilder Jr. is,” Elizondo said.

The 29-year-old back leads the CFL in yards from scrimmage with 406 through three games and 6.2 yards per touch average. Remarkable numbers considering Wilder Jr. retired from pro football in June 2020, and after Harris went after him to join the Elks, he’s played up to his video game created player physique.

“It’s easy to bring the energy, we have a whole different type of appreciation for the game after sitting out a whole year and-a-half. That energy is going to come every day from me, our coaches and our players. If we click, we’re so dangerous that we can do some big things,” Wilder Jr. said.

During his first year in the CFL, Wilder Jr. earned the Most Outstanding Rookie award and played a vital role in the Toronto Argonauts winning the Grey Cup that same season in 2017. Even though his per touch production didn’t drop off, Wilder Jr. fell out of favour with two Argos coaching staffs led by Marc Trestman and Corey Chamblin.

“I think James Wilder Jr. has had a reputation that has followed him that’s very untrue. Getting to know him, who he is, what he’s about, he’s a tremendous team guy, his energy is there every day,” Harris said.

“I couldn’t speak more highly of him in terms of how people say how selfish he is. I just think that chatter needs to stop, he’s a tremendous team player. The stigma about him being a me guy needs to stop.”

Harris was a fan of Wilder Jr.’s from afar and recruited him to play in the same jersey colours with Edmonton. That courting process won him over and allowed the Florida State University product a chance to prove there was a false narrative attached to his name in front office circles.

“I’m hungry, I’m on social media and I don’t look at the negative stuff. I feel like I’ve been disrespected, I’ve been disrespected a lot with something I take extreme pride in,” Wilder Jr. said.

“You hear things about high maintenance — that’s exactly what James Wilder Jr. is not. He’s a total team player, really from the first day it was all about what can I do to help the team,” Elizondo said.

An infectious attitude has benefitted the Elks since Wilder Jr. arrived in Edmonton and his production on the field is currently elite. Whatever the talented playmaker is drinking, it’s been working for him and his bench boss wants to know the secret.

“I don’t know what he takes, but I keep asking him to give me some,” Elizondo said.

“I can’t share it with ya’ll, but I’ll share it with coach,” Wilder Jr. said. “And maybe after the season, I’ll get ya’ll hip to it.”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.