Somewhere between here and Tallahassee, about three weeks ago, his massive 6-foot-2, 220-pound package of muscles and mayhem somehow crammed into his girlfriend's 2005 Chevy Aveo, James Wilder Jr. turned to Bianca Camardo and asked her, "Do you like Florida State?"
And she looked back and said, "Do you like Florida State?"
He smiled, and said yes, I reeeeally like it, and it was all but done.
Wednesday afternoon, Wilder shared his secret with the world, and announced he was going to be a Seminole.
"We just kind of snuck away," Camardo said, and she thinks that trip provided Wilder the clarity he couldn't find amid a recruiting craze that had spun out of control.
It really turned out to be this simple: FSU likes to feature big running backs, and Florida doesn't.
It's what everyone said all along. It was true.
"I've always been a Florida fan," said Curtis Wilder, brother of James, "but even I can admit they prefer to run the ball with a scatback."
James Wilder Jr. is no scatback. He's a SPLATback.
You've seen the highlight tape, right?
The run versus Armwood, where he carried any Hawk willing to get in his way an extra 15 yards?
The touchdown run versus Lakeland, all those cute little Dreadnaughts jumping on his back and trying to wrassle him to the ground?
The touchdown run in the state championship game against Bradenton Manatee, which, well, come on, you have definitely seen that one. It may be the most viewed high school sports play of all time.
Everyone says he's still a better linebacker, and that is probably true. But know this: if he doesn't cut it in FSU's backfield, he'll be a linebacker soon enough.
"He knows he has to perform, or it's back to defense for him," Curtis said. "FSU has told him that. He has got to be good."
Though it would surprise no one if Wilder changed his mind before national signing day, he says he is firm on FSU and retired as a recruit.
"It was fun," Wilder said.
But it was time.
"I definitely couldn't do this another six months," he said with a smile. He's always smiling.
When it started, and he loved Miami so much that he was sure it was where he would end up though the 'Canes quickly fell off, that was the plan, to milk this thing right up until signing day. He was going to travel the country and let colleges court him and see who could put on the best show for him.
Imagine the grandeur, the most famous high school football player in the country, ranked No. 1 by some recruiting services, being fought over by Florida and Florida State, taking it down to the wire.
"Oh, no," he said, waving his hands.
Everything changed this summer, beginning with a fake e-mail address creating a fake Facebook account, where a Fake James Wilder Jr. committed to Florida and set off a mini-media frenzy.
After that, it was The Trip to Tallahassee, which went so well he skipped the Gators' big Friday Night Lights event for recruits.
When Florida was safely in front, it was so easy.
When the Gators weren't, it wasn't.
Word was, his mom loved FSU recruiter Lawrence Dawsey, who also happened to be a former teammate of his dad, former Buc running back James Wilder.
That weekend, things started to turn ugly, with e-mails and phone calls and Wilder had to change his phone number and suddenly, it wasn't so fun.
"After that," Wilder said, "things got crazy. People blew up my phone. They were saying bad things."
He saved it all.
"I don't even know why," he said.
Because it's all part of the journey.
When the time came for some serious thinking, Wilder says it was amazingly difficult.
One day, he was a Gator. The next, a Seminole. The next? A Gator.
He met Camardo in the seventh grade at Martinez Middle School. He was living with his brother, and she was living with her aunt. They met on the school bus, and she says he claims it was love at first sight.
She was his sounding board through this process, even though Wilder said she doesn't know anything about football.
The more he talked, the more she listened. She had no opinions.
"He had to decide to go where he felt the best," she said.
It was Tallahassee.
Then, one last trip.
To be sure.
Times preps columnist John C. Cotey can be reached at [email protected].