OTTAWA — James Wilder Jr. walked off the field after practice on Wednesday, helmet in one hand, cellphone in the other.
There's a good chance Marc Trestman was cringing.
Wilder, a 25-year-old Toronto running back with "millennial charisma," poses a unique challenge for the Argonauts head coach.
"It really goes to the phone. It goes to the addiction we have — all of us have — to our phones and distracting us from our task," said Trestman, who's 61. "So they see things a bit different. That would be a whole symposium in the off-season. It really would."
Wilder has worked himself into a key role with the Argonauts and should be a big factor when Toronto battles the Calgary Stampeders in Sunday's Grey Cup.
The gregarious player laughed when told Trestman mentioned his phone dependence.
"I got it in my hand now. Always," Wilder said. "(Trestman) is always on me, every time I'm walking in the hall, he's like 'Look at you on that phone again, man. Can you go a day without the phone?' 'Yeah, probably not.'
"Coach always jokes with us youngers guys about using our phones and social media."
Trestman was addressing the media at Tuesday's traditional Grey Cup coaches press conference, and spoke about how players process information differently based on their age.
"So each and every day you've got to find ways of sending the same messages different ways so you can get all ears on it through your demeanour, through your actions, through video, whatever it might be," said Trestman.
Wilder, whose dad James Sr. played 10 years in the NFL, spent part of three seasons on practice rosters with Buffalo and Cincinnati before finding a home in the CFL. He began the season on special teams but now leads the Argos in rushing with 872 yards on 122 carries. His breakout game came in a 34-26 win over Edmonton on Sept. 16 when he ran 11 times for 190 yards and a touchdown.
Trestman spoke with pride of his player's development.
"He's a entity within himself. He's in the process of growing as a person," the cerebral coach said. "He had to earn the right to play. He did it through special teams and, and working at his craft. . . and then, when he was given an opportunity, he made the most of it.
"He has a millennial charisma about him, that's effective on our team. But the reason why it is is because he backed it up with making the decisions and taking care of the football, and in his own way, putting the team first and really working hard at that."
The six-foot-three running back had been on Jim Popp's radar since the general manager saw him win an NCAA title with Florida State in 2013. The Alouettes owned Wilder's rights when Popp was in Montreal. When Montreal dropped them, Popp and the Argos snapped him up.
Wilder didn't mind.
"I told my agent 'That's awesome, I've never been to Canada, but Toronto is the only place that I know in Canada, so that would be a good place to go,'" Wilder said. "It worked out well."
He knew little about the CFL either before arriving in Toronto, but studied YouTube video, including past Grey Cup games.
"I've seen how important the Grey Cup is, and how special it is," he said. "Talking to veterans, guys who are in Year 10, Year 9, who've never been (to the Grey Cup), it's crazy because I'm in my first year and we're here," Wilder said.
His mom Barbara, a former track and field athlete, was at Toronto's victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in last weekend's Eastern Final. His dad held out to see his son at the Grey Cup.
"My dad used his little motivation, saying he wasn't coming to the last game, that he'll be here at the Grey Cup, so that was my motivation to come here," Wilder said. "They're both getting in on Saturday, and it will be my dad's first CFL game, so it's pretty awesome, his first CFL game to be a Grey Cup."
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press