- Jamie Newberg, RecruitingNation
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There's electricity surrounding the garnet and gold under new Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Suddenly, it's like back in the 1990s when FSU was college football's best program and all the top recruits wanted to play for the Seminoles. That was clearly evident on Wednesday as the Seminoles came out of nowhere to land four-star athlete James Wilder II, who is No. 19 in the ESPNU 150.
Wilder, 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, stars on both sides of the ball, but the Tampa (Fla.) Plant star wants to play running back in college despite many thinking he has more upside on defense. Florida State was one of the programs that said he could play running back. He chose the Seminoles over Florida and Georgia.
Still, this was somewhat of a surprise that Wilder ended up committing to FSU. Sometime last spring, Wilder told the Gators he was going to Gainesville. It was common knowledge among recruiters that Florida was the team to beat. But FSU kept working and working. While Fisher created a very good relationship with Wilder, much of the credit needs to go to wide receiver coach Lawrence Dawsey, who recruits the Tampa Bay area. He did a phenomenal job in keeping FSU in it and slowly turning Wilder. Dawsey also won over Wilder's mother.
Another big key was Florida State running backs coach Eddie Gran. He developed a good relationship since Gran's arrival at FSU in February. Gran's resume also impressed Wilder. Gran has coached some great running backs in the past, such as Deuce McAllister and John Avery at Ole Miss; Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Kenny Irons, Heath Evans, Brandon Jacobs, Ben Tate and Rudi Johnson at Auburn; and Montario Hardesty last season at Tennessee.
Perhaps the turning point of Wilder's recruitment was last month. He was supposed to attend Friday Night Lights, Florida's elite summer camp in July in The Swamp. Instead, Wilder traveled with his family to Tallahassee. He sat down with Gran in the film room and they went through every single run play in the FSU offense in great detail. No one else did that with Wilder.
The fact they beat Florida, his in-state rival and one of the best recruiting programs in the country, is a big statement by Fisher and his staff. This wasn't supposed to happen. But it did and signifies that Florida State is back recruiting at a high level.
The Seminoles are putting together a very good class for the second year in a row. Now adding Wilder, it boasts 15 commits, including seven members of the ESPNU 150 and nine four-star players. Wilder is also one of those alpha dogs who attracts other recruits. It could help out with defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, defensive end Giorgio Newberry, linebacker Tony Steward, defensive tackle Tony Bell, tight end Brandon Fulse, and offensive lineman Ruben Carter, all prospects the Noles would love to land. Wilder will also help them next season and beyond.
Wilder is a perfect fit for Fisher's offense. In the past, when the offensive scheme was really hitting on all cylinders it was because of his running game. Fisher loves the big back, the guy that can break tackles and break an opponent's back, especially in the fourth quarter. Fisher was looking for a hammer and he got one in Wilder.
Wilder will have a chance to make an immediate impact in Tallahassee. He's the one big back the Seminoles will have on campus. Future running back teammates Chris Thompson and Jermaine Thomas are both very talented, they bring a much different skill set to the table. They are lightning to Wilder's thunder. Sure it will be a challenging offense to learn. Wilder will have to learn two reads on every play. He will have to learn blitz pickup, although with his physical nature that shouldn't be too much of an issue. Most of all, he will have to adjust to the speed of the game. Like all true freshman, Wilder will have to learn to play fast at the next level.
But it was a big day for Fisher and Florida State, as well as Wilder. It seems like the start of a marriage that's a real good fit for both parties. It also speaks volumes for a program trying to work its way back to the elite status.
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.