Plant's James Wilder Jr. sat down at the nearest computer and eagerly typed in his high school football team's Web site. "You gotta see this," the St. Petersburg Times' All-Suncoast defensive player of the year said to the All-Suncoast offensive player of the year, Jefferson quarterback Quentin Williams. Wilder was looking for his run against Lakeland. You know the one. The video loaded and played. Williams watched, shook his head and smiled. He had seen runs like this before, Wilder trucking opponents years ago when the two played for the same youth league team.
Wilder has more highlights to choose from than any player in Tampa Bay, because he doesn't just make great plays, he makes spectacular plays.
Put a mouse in his hand and gather 'round, and he'll gladly show you all of them.
"Right … there," he said — big No. 32 cutting back on a run that wasn't designed to and sticking one remarkably sculpted right arm into the grill of a Dreadnaught, who crumpled upon impact.
One more time, he says, and he plays it again. It is a gorgeous stiff arm.
"Oh wait … look at this one," Wilder said — big No. 32 hurdling a blocker to get his hands on a punt.
He leans back and smiles, and plays it again. And again.
"Oh wait, one more …" as the computer loaded another.
In the span of one season, the legend of Wilder had been born, raised and grown on these kinds of plays into something that can no longer be contained by Tampa Bay.
A 6-foot-3, 220-pound fat-free can't-miss prospect, Wilder is going national, and the junior can thank four of the most memorable runs in local preps history, three of them in the postseason as he led Plant to a third state title in four seasons.
I'd argue it started Oct. 2 against Armwood. It was late in a game Plant was close to wrapping up, and Wilder's job was merely to try to get a first down to seal the victory.
Theodore "Man-Man" Jackson had him in the backfield but couldn't hang on. Another Hawk jumped on his back at the line of scrimmage, then another, and another, and Wilder disappeared.
At least eight Hawks grabbed Wilder at one time or another, and a few others seemed reluctant.
The play covered 18 yards.
In 17 seconds.
It's on YouTube. Check it out.
"That might be the greatest run of all time," the announcer said.
Hardly. It was just a warmup.
In a rainy playoff game against Countryside that created conditions making it difficult to walk on the field, he carried a half-dozen Cougars on his back, halfway across the field, in oatmeal.
Better than the one against Armwood, he said afterward, because it was a playoff game.
The next week against Lakeland, he was dragged to the ground but planted his arm and pushed himself up. The defender couldn't believe it; he let go. Three other players tried to stop Wilder, but he dragged them — and four of his eager-to-help Panther teammates — into the end zone, capping the first drive of the game and setting the tone in a monumental victory.
Better than the one against Countryside, he said afterward, because it was against Lakeland.
Three are-you-fricking-kidding-me runs.
A week later in the state championship game, Wilder would render them all forgettable with one 42-yard touchdown dash.
There were no words for it, except these: It made you want to smile at someone, anyone, to silently share another incredible moment.
On third and 8, he took a handoff, powered his way through an arm tackle and an open hole, then ducked his head and took on three Bradenton Manatee defenders, who made the mistake of ducking theirs as well.
As they were knocked onto their backs, Wilder spun 180 degrees one way, regained his balance then spun 180 degrees back the other way to daylight.
He outraced one defender to the corner, and stiff-armed another at the 2 before scoring.
"That," yelled one of the Panthers, "was ridiculous!"
So is this: Wilder is the Times' defensive player of the year. You'll have to imagine how much better he was on that side of the ball.
I'm out of room.
John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@sptimes.
All-Suncoast: Plant's James Wilder Jr. and Jefferson's Quentin Williams top the Times' All-Suncoast team. Check out the best players in Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas. 5C