Wilder, Moore embrace family legacy

TAMPA -- James Wilder Jr. is trying to live up to a legacy in the Tampa Bay area.

His father, James Wilder Sr., was a Pro Bowl performer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He nearly set an NFL record for combined rushing and receiving yards in 1984 and holds nearly every franchise record for rushing yards, attempts and touchdowns.

Needless to say, it's a lot for the younger Wilder to live up to.

"My dad has incredibly high standards," said the Plant (Tampa, Fla.) junior running back/linebacker and ESPNU 150 Watch List member. "Whenever I think I did something well, he can find something that I could've done better. Whenever he just tells me 'good job,' I know he really meant it."

"I can definitely be his worst critic," joked the senior Wilder.

Just a half-hour away, Countryside (Clearwater, Fla.) junior offensive lineman Tyler Moore is carrying on a legacy of his own.

In October, the 6-foot-6, 290-pounder and ESPNU 150 Watch List member committed to Nebraska over Cal, Florida, West Virginia and Tennessee.

This was not a surprise. In fact, it was expected.

"Everyone in my family expected me to go to Nebraska," Moore added. "When I got the offer, everyone in the family was congratulating me and I hadn't even committed there yet."

His father, Brian, was a tight end at Nebraska during its glory years of the early '80s. Two of his cousins have played at Nebraska along with his great-uncle, former NFL quarterback Vince Ferragamo.

"I love the program and what it means to the players and the community," Tyler said. "I had other nice offers and schools that wanted me, but Nebraska has that family atmosphere that I wanted."

Tyler's love of the Cornhuskers affects everyone around him, especially his dad.

"Sometimes I'll be working in my office or something before the Huskers come on TV and Tyler will push me to watch the game," Brian Moore said. "He might say, 'C'mon Dad, you're not being a real fan.'"

Both Moore and Wilder have been able to exceed the high standards set for them.

After transferring to Plant from nearby Chamberlain High, Wilder first tried to fit in with the defending Class 4A state champion, but his talents quickly made him one of the Panthers' focal points on both sides of the ball.

As a linebacker, the 6-1, 217-pounder is such a disruptive force that teams generally attempt to avoid him or double-team him, leaving many opportunities for his teammates to make plays.

"He definitely makes everyone better around him on defense," said senior linebacker Mike Mirabella. "When he makes a big play, it makes me that much more eager to do the same thing on the next play."

On offense, he provides another weapon for Plant's multifaceted attack that scored 136 points in its first two playoff games. Wilder has rushed for 740 yards and 12 touchdowns on 95 carries as he has shared backfield responsibilities with speedy senior T.J. Glover.

"I love playing on both sides of the ball because that gives me an opportunity to dictate the outcome of the entire game," Wilder added. "I want to be able to help the team on every play."

Wilder's numbers and physical presence have attracted such suitors as Florida, Miami, Georgia, Florida State, North Carolina and Tennessee. But his coaches and teammates love his intangibles and thirst for competition.

"James is not only an explosive offensive player, but he's amazing in pass protection," Plant junior quarterback Phillip Ely said. "He loves blocking and he wants to do whatever it takes to make every play successful."

Plant coach Robert Weiner credits Wilder's efforts and competitiveness to his father.

"He understands the language of football," Weiner added. "He goes after it hard in practice and he's extremely competitive, but the minute practice is over he's walking arm in arm with his teammates. He has been around football all his life and he knows what it takes to be member of the team and a leader on the team."

The bigger the challenge, the more excited Wilder is to embrace it. In preseason practices Plant does "circle drills," and Wilder quickly went after the two top performers in those drills -- offensive linemen Jon Vega and Andre Mondor.

"I knew they were pretty much undefeated and they are both 300-pounders, but I had to go against them," Wilder said. "I love battling them in practice."

But there isn't a rush for the youngest Wilder to grow up, and you'll never hear father and son talk about what lies ahead in college or possibly the pros.

"All that will come in time. Right now, I just want him to enjoy being a junior in high school," Wilder Sr. said. "Finish the high school and take in everything that he's taught at Plant. They are an excellent program with great coaches."

As an offensive lineman, Moore is judged on the production of the offense, and Countryside's is easily the best in Pinellas County. He and junior offensive line teammate Tyler Pierson are the cornerstones of the success.

Their dominating blocking efforts have led the way for senior running back Alton Taylor's 1,932 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns.

"It's a blessing every day to run behind [Moore]," said Taylor. "He and Pierson just get it done."

The accolades have come in bunches for Moore. Several prominent college coaches have said that Moore is the best 16-year-old offensive line prospect in the nation.

Countryside coach John Davis describes Moore as a leader by example and wishes he would occasionally be more vocal. His teammates, like Pierson, say Moore is fairly quiet but very generous with his time and knowledge.

"We've been friends since middle school and he's been helping me along the way," Pierson added. "He's a great teammate and a great friend. He understands the game and he's always going to make sure everyone's in a position to succeed."

While Moore's father has been instrumental in teaching him the game, he is also clearly naturally talented.

"Sometimes I'll be watching film with his dad, and we'll see Tyler do something so sound and experienced, and I'll ask Brian if he worked with him on the side and his dad will say no," Davis said. "Because he just does some things, experienced things that college coaches are just now teaching their freshman, and he's doing them now. And it just comes natural to him."

"He's a quick learner," Brian Moore added, "and he's retained the things that have been taught to him by his coaches and by other coaches at camps. You don't have to explain things to him more than once."

Tyler Moore is not only the strongest player on the team but also one of the brightest; he boasts a 4.0 grade point average. His father credits his commitment to academics and the weight room for his success on the field.

Even Brian is continually surprised by the developments his son has made in high school. And of course, he's excited about the continuing legacy of the Moore family in Lincoln.

"Watching my nephews play at Nebraska, I always hoped one day my son could be there too," Brian Moore said. "But being one of the best in the nation at his position and being the young man that he is, I couldn't be prouder of him."

Corey Long is a freelance writer in Florida.