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February 1, 2010

Junior of the Year: Wilder has few weaknesses

James Wilder Jr. stood out no matter where he was during the U.S. Army National Combine in San Antonio.

After earning a spot on the all-lobby team because of his impressive physique, the Tampa (Fla.) Plant standout was more impressive on the field.

In a matter of minutes he dominated the running back/linebacker drills, conducted a television interview, then went to the one-on-one station for linemen.

Wilder was nearly unstoppable there, too.

A 6-foot-2, 223-pound athlete with a chiseled and muscular frame, Wilder will play either running back or linebacker in college. He was clearly the most-dominant recruit at the Army Combine. That's one of many reasons why he's the Rivals.com junior of the year.

"It seems like he has a really good attitude, and I like the idea he tried out at more positions than anybody else at the combine," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barry Every said.

"He loved the challenge of going against the big guys, and he showed a lot of power and strength. He also seems like a really, really nice kid. Here's a kid who could be full of himself, but he doesn't come across that way."

Wilder showed a competitive streak during the physical one-on-one confrontations with prospects much bigger than him. If linemen blocked him, Wilder always had a move to slip away and get past the blocker. Even against some of the nation's best juniors, Wilder found a way to outmaneuver them and rarely got pushed back. He was simply faster and more agile than anyone he went against.

"We like to put guys in spots, even a guy as noticeable as he is, that you just never know where he's going to be next," Plant coach Robert Weiner said. "We do that with him on offense and we do that with him on defense.

"It's just really, really tough to scheme against him. Unless you have your best guy on him every time, he's going to get the best of you. He's the ultimate mismatch in high school football.

"I haven't seen everybody in the whole country play this year, but if there is a better, more dominant player than he is, I'd have to see him on film. He has been amazing for us."

Recruiting should be interesting with Wilder, who said he'd prefer to play running back instead of linebacker. He finished with about 940 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in his junior year, a dominant force on offense and defense.

What could be so intriguing is that his school list changes depending on which position he's going to play.

If the Plant star settles on running back, he said at the combine that Miami would be his leader with Georgia, Florida and Tennessee also involved.

If it's linebacker, the Gators would move to the front. Since the combine, USC, Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina have entered the fray.

JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT
Here is a look at Rivals.com's past Juniors of the Year:
ClassPlayerCollege
1999T.J. DuckettMichigan State
2000D.J. WilliamsMiami
2001Kevin JonesVirginia Tech
2002Lorenzo BookerFlorida State
2003Demetris SummersSouth Carolina
2004Rhett BomarOklahoma
2005Derrick WilliamsPenn State
2006Percy HarvinFlorida
2007Jimmy ClausenNotre Dame
2008Terrelle PryorOhio State
2009Matt BarkleyUSC
2010Seantrel Hendersonundecided
"I haven't taken a visit (to Miami) yet, but they've been telling me they want me for running back, that they liked big-sized running backs," said Wilder, whose father played in the NFL. "They run the ball a lot and they could develop into a good team by the time I get there."

Wilder is so talented he'll likely be able to play at any college he wants. Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell believes Wilder is surely a linebacker, but he was also so dominant in the running back drills that it's difficult to pigeon-hole him to one position.

"He looks like a linebacker," Farrell said. "He has long arms, long build. He almost looks too tall to be a running back. But if you see him on film he can play either because he's very physical. He runs with good leverage.

"When you eyeball him he looks like an outside linebacker, so that's why a lot of schools are recruiting him there."

Every thinks Wilder should focus on defense.

"I'm not saying he can't be a running back and he'd probably be a pretty good one," Every said. "But his attributes gear him more toward being a linebacker than a running back. He'd be a tall running back and take a lot of hits. He'd be better at a linebacker."

With what Wilder has displayed so far in his career, it appears that he'll be good anywhere.



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