It wasn’t a decision James Wilder Jr. wanted to make.
But with the opportunity to return to his home city and coach football at his high school alma mater, plus open a fitness facility under his name with some financial backers, he couldn’t wait any longer.
The 28-year-old and father of four, soon-to-be-five, decided to commit to a future away from football, making him the highest-profile CFL player to walk away from the game over the uncertainty of whether there will be even a shortened 2020 season.
“I had some opportunities that need my full commitment in Tampa, Florida,” said Wilder Jr. “To be able to have my own facility and be the head trainer was hard to pass up and be able to take on a coaching job as well at Tampa Plant High School, it just makes sense for me and my family.”
“I talked to (Montreal GM Danny Maciocia) and he was very supportive. It’s unfortunate that circumstances pushed things this way because we were both very excited about working together to win a Grey Cup.”
Wilder, who starred at Florida State University and spent time in the NFL before coming to the Toronto Argonauts, exploded onto the scene in 2017, winning the league’s outstanding rookie and helping the Argos win a Grey Cup.
His production, like that of his team, dropped off the past two seasons before he signed a free agent deal with Montreal this off-season.
“I feel like I’m right in my prime and have a lot tread left on the tires. It’s not a move that I want to make, it’s a move that I have to make. I have to make a grown-man decision,” he said. “It was a very tough decision. I prayed, talked to my family about it, talked to my father about it ... going into (pro football) year seven, I feel like I was only halfway done.”
“There’s too much uncertainty that’s forcing my hand on this decision. I don’t have time to wait.”
Wilder has spent the past three years living in Canada but spent part of this off-season in Houston where he had been training for this upcoming season.
“I’m very grateful to the CFL for giving me an opportunity,” he said. “I knew nothing about the CFL and they revamped my career and gave me a wonderful three years where the Canadian fans embraced me.”
While he is fully committed to his new professional direction for the foreseeable future, he would not rule out playing football beyond 2020 if his own circumstances allowed for it.
“It’s really slim, but the door is not completely shut, no,” he said.