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January 12, 2010
SAN ANTONIO - Texas is known as the Lone Star State, and by the end of Friday's Army National Combine there was a lone star that stood out above the 500 other players in attendance.
James Wilder Jr., a 6-foot-2, 223-pound athlete from Tampa Plant, was outstanding at running back, linebacker and defensive end. Yes, Wilder participated in the one-on-one competition for linemen during both sessions and he dominated. He didn't go through all the testing, but did have a raw vertical leap of 10 feet 6 inches.
The only question with Wilder is which side of the ball he'll play on in college. By the time the combine was over, there was no question he would be named Rivals.com's Most Outstanding Performer.
"We like to put guys in spots, even a guy as noticeable as he is, that you just never know where he's going to be next," Plant coach Robert Weiner said. "We do that with him on offense and we do that with him on defense. It's just really, really tough to scheme against him. Unless you have your best guy on him every time, he's going to get the best of you. He's the ultimate mismatch in high school football.
"I haven't seen everybody in the whole country play this year, but if there is a better, more dominant player than he is, I'd have to see him on film. He's been amazing for us."
Wilder prefers offense at this point - his father was an NFL running back - but playing linebacker is not out of the question.
"He looks like a linebacker," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "He almost looks too tall to be a running back, but if you see him on film he can play either because he's very physical. He runs with good leverage. When you eyeball him he looks like an outside linebacker, so that's why a lot of schools are recruiting him there."
Miami is early the leader for Wilder if he decides on running back. Georgia, Tennessee and Florida would also be in the equation.
"I talked to (Miami defensive line) coach (Clint) Hurtt and I've been getting e-mails from them," Wilder said. "I haven't taken a visit there yet, but they've been telling me they want me for running back, that they liked big-sized running backs. They run the ball a lot and they could develop into a good team by the time I get there."
However, if Wilder decides he wants to play linebacker at the next level, he said the Gators will be one of his top schools. USC, which also wants him for defense, would be in the mix, too. According to Wilder, the Volunteers told him he could play both ways.
Regardless of where he ends up, his teammates think he's a special leader - the type that you want on your side in big games. Just ask his teammate, quarterback Phillip Ely.
During a game against Riverview (Fla.) Spoto this season, Ely was running toward the sideline when a safety went for a big hit on him. Instead of letting Ely get whacked, Wilder jumped in front and absorbed the contact. Weiner said it was a play that exemplified Wilder's mentality.
"Phillip was on the sidelines and the safety was headhunting," Weiner said. "Phillip wasn't out yet. That guy left the air and literally came from 6 yards away and (Wilder) left the air to cut the guy off. He wasn't trying to make a block. He was just trying to protect his teammate.
"Phillip came to the sidelines and said, 'Did you see James try to protect me?' I said, 'That's what it's all about.'"
-Adam Gorney contributed to this story.
OFFENSIVE MVP: OL BOBBY HART
DEFENSIVE MVP: DT DESMOND JACKSON