Friday, December 15, 2017
Colleges

Florida State hopes Wilder runs 'wild and free'

TALLAHASSEE — The moniker is gaining traction in the Panhandle. With the incessancy of a tomahawk chop, its creators want to hammer it into the Seminole Nation's conscience, to make it burn in the bronze ears of Bobby Bowden's statue.

With infomercial zeal, FSU tailbacks James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman are plugging a "Wild and Free" backfield, "WildFree" for short. Wilder has taken the nickname to his coach for patenting.

"If he runs wild and free, I'm good," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I'll call it whatever he wants to call it. It don't bother me."

The Seminoles have dual-back packages to accommodate their two top returning rushers. And with a new quarterback — Jameis Winston or Jacob Coker — being broken in, a "Wild and Free" look early could become more base formation than buzzword.

Considering Freeman's speed and low center of gravity, complemented by Wilder's pile-moving force, the possibilities are intriguing.

So is the nickname.

Off the field, Wilder, a former Plant High prep All-American, insists the "Wild" part of his life is gone off the field.

"I have no more strikes. I can't go out and go do the things I was doing when I was a freshman and a sophomore," said Wilder, 21, a junior and father of an 8-month-old girl, Nala. "At the same time, I'm a father now, so I have to mature up. It's time for me to grow up, and I can't be going to jail and doing dumb things like that."

Among the most lauded college prospects spawned by a Tampa high school, Wilder spent spurts of the 2012 season subduing critics who insisted his ranginess (6 feet 2, 229 pounds) and strength were more suited for defensive-edge rushing (27 total sacks at Plant in 2009 and 2010) than running the ball.

He ran for 635 yards last year, brandished soft hands out of the backfield (19 catches, 136 yards), and converted the most crucial fourth down of the year with a 7-yard gain on fourth-and-1 in the clinching drive of a 28-22 win at Virginia Tech.

"He's tall, he's lanky, and he's big," Freeman said. "And he can cut, he can run people over, he can catch. So he's not too far from all the other running backs. He's really, like, just different."

Yet for all his dazzling spurts, Wilder enters his junior season with three times as many arrests at FSU (three) as 100-yard games.

All three occurred within 11 months, from February 2012 to January of this year. The most serious was came after he was accused of shoving a police officer trying to serve a warrant on an ex-girlfriend (later reduced to a misdemeanor resisting-arrest charge). Wilder was in danger of regressing from can't-miss player to cautionary tale.

Yet by all accounts, he is contrite about the recent past, more focused on expiation than excuses. At FSU's recent media day, Wilder's remorse seemed as profound as the tattoos slathered on his forearms.

"I'm already on, like, strike three. I have no more strikes," Wilder said.

"And at the same time, we always get (together) as a team before the season and we talk. Everybody stands up at the front, and we'll tell each other what we're going through, what we plan on holding each other accountable to."

The evolution has been especially noticeable as Wilder and Freeman find themselves among the team's elder statesmen.

At media day, Fisher called Wilder "a very vocal leader and a leader by example."

"He loves ball. He loves being on that field. You can't work him hard enough. You can't practice long enough," Fisher said.

"I mean, he would've played in the throwback days when you used to have those four-, five- or six-hour practices and been happy. Not a lot of guys do that now."

Now, Seminoles fans are waiting for Fisher to turn his brawny veteran loose in a game, to give him a succession of handoffs and watch him lower his head for an extra yard, maybe drag a nickelback into the end zone the way he did at Plant.

No. 32 is itching to run wild and free.

For James Wilder Jr., that phrase finally has a positive connotation.

"He really mentally is studying the game and doing things," Fisher said. "I'm happy to watch him evolve as a person."

 
Comments

Tim Tebow wants to help throw you a tailgate wedding (sausages included)

Tim Tebow loves weddings.He apparently also loves football, tailgate parties and a good brat, which might explain why he’s lending his pitchman talents to a contest that ties all four together.In a promotional video, Tebow asks, "What happens when yo...
Published: 12/14/17
River Ridge grad Chris Schwarz on brink of Division II title with West Florida

River Ridge grad Chris Schwarz on brink of Division II title with West Florida

Two years ago, Chris Schwarz was mulling over his college choices. The former River Ridge High standout had offers from Valparaiso, Florida Tech and West Florida. West Florida?That one baffled Schwarz, mostly because he knew nothing about the school....
Published: 12/14/17
Gators crash volleyball power party, play national semifinal Thursday

Gators crash volleyball power party, play national semifinal Thursday

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s difficult to call a volleyball program that has been to the Final Four eight times an underdog, especially the way Florida rallied to beat Southern California and punch its latest ticket. Yet of the four schools descending on ...
Published: 12/13/17
FSU beats Tulane in Tampa, stays unbeaten in basketball

FSU beats Tulane in Tampa, stays unbeaten in basketball

Published: 12/10/17
Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield wins Heisman Trophy

Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield wins Heisman Trophy

NEW YORK — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, completing a climb from walk-on to one of the most accomplished players in the history of college football. Mayfield won a lopsided vote to become the sixth Okla...
Published: 12/09/17
Could Jim Harbaugh soon be known as Willie Taggart’s buddy?

Could Jim Harbaugh soon be known as Willie Taggart’s buddy?

TAMPA — His team was in Ann Arbor, practicing. He was signing footballs in Tampa.Yet another Jim Harbaugh fun fact."I can’t be in two places at once," Harbaugh said.Not that Harbaugh wouldn’t try it if he could. College football’s firestarter, its bi...
Published: 12/08/17

Gasparilla Bowl journal: Temple’s Collins speaks highly of former boss, new Gator Mullen

ST. PETE BEACH — If anyone has an accurate read on how new coach Dan Mullen will fare at Florida, it’s Temple’s Geoff Collins.Collins worked under Mullen as a Mississippi State assistant from 2011-14. He jumped from there to Gainesville, where he spe...
Published: 12/07/17
No. 5 Florida Gators lose stunner at home to Loyola-Chicago

No. 5 Florida Gators lose stunner at home to Loyola-Chicago

GAINESVILLE — Aundre Jackson scored 23, Cameron Krutwig added 14 and Loyola-Chicago stunned No. 5 Florida 63-59 Wednesday, handing the Gators a third consecutive loss. Less than 48 hours after Florida coach Mike White said his team’s performance agai...
Published: 12/06/17
Twitter propels man toward dream of becoming bloomin' onion at Outback Bowl

Twitter propels man toward dream of becoming bloomin' onion at Outback Bowl

No matter what happens on the field at the Outback Bowl in Tampa, the star of the show will be the bloomin’ onion. Not the deliciously crispy, glistening, 1,900-plus-calorie appetizer served at Outback restaurants, but the person who parades t...
Published: 12/06/17
Indiana hoops transplant perfectly at home in Tampa

Indiana hoops transplant perfectly at home in Tampa

TAMPA — Back home in Indiana, he was basketball royalty. He played in his first league at age 2. He lived — and loved — the hardwood life. He was accustomed to performing before more than 10,000 fans for his big games.Pat Bacon capped his storied pre...
Published: 12/06/17