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James Wilder Jr. ready to charge with Edmonton Elks

Toronto Argonauts running back James Wilder Jr. (32) celebrates after a play during second half CFL football action in Regina on Monday, July 1, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis

Edmonton Elks running back James Wilder Jr. experienced a bonding moment with his new teammates on Monday when the CFL announced it was going ahead with the 2021 season.

“We all called each other, me and all my teammates. We all texted,” said Wilder. “I was just excited. It was unexplainable. We’ve been out of football since 2019.”

Wilder is currently in Tampa, Fla. After three seasons in Toronto, he signed with Montreal in January of 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and Wilder was suddenly faced with the prospect of life after football. He announced his retirement last June, even before the CFL canceled its season.

Read more: Elks open 2021 season at home versus Redblacks

“With COVID, we didn’t know what was going on,” said Wilder. “I needed to give my all to the Wilder Sports Academy.”

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The academy is approaching its first birthday.

“We’re booming right now,” explained Wilder. “We work with ages five and up. We do boot camps. We do sports training, speed, and agility. We assist high school players get recruited. We also train pro players.”

Read more: Behind the scenes with designers of Edmonton Elks logo

Wilder, 29, credits his father for a life in football. Wilder Sr. played running back in the NFL from 1981 to 1990. The father is the son’s biggest fan and, when, necessary, harshest critic.

“I am him. He is me,” said Wilder. “I’ve modelled my life after him. I use him as a mentor. Before games, after games, he’s always there. His opinion is everything to me.”

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Dad’s guidance has paid off. Wilder has proven to be a productive performer in his CFL career, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and 9.7 yards per catch. In October especially, he wants fans to pay close attention to his stats and keep an eye out for the the #RunWILDERForACure hashtag, as he raises money to battle breast cancer.

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“It’s something we do every October since I’ve been in the CFL. We get all the CFL running backs to give $1 per yard and $100 per touchdown in the month of October,” said Wilder.

“One of my mom’s close friends is a breast cancer survivor. We wear pink (in October). The awareness is cool, but I wanted to put some action behind the awareness.”

The CFL schedule was announced on Tuesday. The Elks 14-game slate starts with a home game against Ottawa on Aug. 7.

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