Elks running back James Wilder Jr. matching ‘vibes’ with ‘cool dude’ Chris Jones

Photo courtesy: George Fourlaris/Edmonton Elks

The coolness factor of Chris Jones was quickly evident to running back James Wilder Jr.

Edmonton’s general manager and head coach has gained a reputation as being charismatic among players around the Canadian Football League, according to Wilder Jr.

“The juice that he has, players want to play for him — he’s a cool dude,” Wilder Jr., who noticed matching vibes from Jones during contract negotiations, said.

The 29-year-old signed a one-year contract extension with the Elks for the 2022 season. Wilder Jr. was a consistent playmaker for the green and gold amid an awful last season for the team, carrying the football 142 times for 770 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and two touchdowns while averaging three yards after contact.

“Yards after contact are extremely important. We’re going to be a tough physical football team, we’re going to play great defence and we’re going to hand the football off a bunch. That’s our M.O., so that’s why we need a back like James,” Jones said.

Jones was hired by Edmonton in December after the Elks posted a CFL-worst 3-11 record under president Chris Presson, GM Brock Sunderland and bench boss Jaime Elizondo — all three men were fired following the 2021 schedule. Despite the lack of leadership and winning last year, Wilder Jr. elected to trust Jones and his regime.

“It would have been real easy for him to go to free agency and go to a team that won more than Edmonton last year,” Jones said.

“We didn’t get it done enough, we got the right GM, the right head coach and right running back in place now,” Wilder Jr. said about the intriguing prospects of the upcoming season.

The six-foot-three, 232-pound back began his CFL career as a member of the Toronto Argonauts. Through 56 games in Canada, Wilder Jr. has 502 carries for 2,793 yards (5.6 yards per carry) with 11 touchdowns. He’s added 182 receptions for 1,713 yards — 1,386 of those coming after the catch — and six majors.

“The thing that I see about him, his energy he brings on the field. When he first came into the league, it was hard to miss the biggest guy on the field outrunning everybody on kick-off and punt making tackles, and this is the guy that’s supposed to be the starting tailback,” Jones said.

“I had never really sat down with him, I was down there in the hotel in Tampa, he jumps over the gate and proceeds to tell me how he’s going to play defensive end for me and he wants to play special teams. We need those kind of guys on our football team.”

During his rookie season, Wilder Jr. recorded 1,405 offensive yards and five touchdowns on the way to earning the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie award and winning the 2017 Grey Cup. That’s the kind of production Jones expects while hoping the big back can lead his team to a CFL championship.