Originally created 08/15/98

Ex-prep star ready for sophmore season



ATLANTA -- When Jay Omer first gazed upon Ed Wilder last fall, he didn't think the freshman could contribute much during his initial year.

At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, the Georgia Tech fullback ran too upright and didn't possess enough quickness.

But it took just one move for Tech's director of player development to alter his perception.

"You know the one," Omer recalls with a grin. "That leap against Wake Forest. That's when I knew he could play."

Nearly two full games into Wilder's freshman season, he had yet to touch the football.

Then, a couple minutes into the fourth quarter of Tech's second game, Wilder got his first call.

Taking a swing pass from Joe Hamilton, Wilder sidestepped one defender, then -- when he appeared trapped -- leaped a Demon Deacon cornerback en route to an 18-yard touchdown. Nine minutes later it turned into the game winner.

"You don't see many guys that big that can move like him," Omer said. "He's a tough kid."

And suddenly, the Washington-Wilkes star turned from a super prep into super freshman.

Wilder ended up starting nine games last fall, including eight of the Jackets' 10 following the Wake Forest victory. He rushed for 18 yards on six carries, and turned nine receptions into 121 yards, while getting his primary use as a blocker.

"I didn't expect to come in and play as much as I did and doing the things that they asked me to do," Wilder said Friday at Tech's annual media day. "I thought I could come in and help, but not as much as I did."

Instead, George O'Leary couldn't take him off the field. Just a year removed from high school, the Georgia Tech coach calls Wilder one of his most versatile players.

"Heck, my defensive coaches want to use him as a linebacker," O'Leary said.

O'Leary won't let that happen, but he won't hesitate to utilize Wilder's skills at a number of positions.

A blocker by trade, Wilder should see a little more action out of the backfield this fall. And with the suspensions of two tight ends earlier this week, Wilder may find a few turns there.

Wilder spent this summer at Tech, taking an industrial psychology class, as well as a more draining regimen with Omer.

Up at 5:30 a.m., he was in the gym working out by 6. He earned a break at 7:30, but that only lasted a half-hour before 45 minutes of running commenced.

Through the grueling schedule, he dropped his body fat from 18 to 13 percent and says he's in the best shape of his life.

"The summer workout program here is real tough," Wilder said. "The word is, `If you make through summer, you can make it through preseason."'

Preseason practices begin today for Wilder and the rest of the Jackets. They are hoping to build upon the final weeks of '97, which brought three wins in their final four games.

A stronger, quicker Wilder should be one of the main components of Tech's versatile offensive attack.

"I think he's a very talented youngster, a very smart youngster that's only going to get better and better," O'Leary said. "If he can improve from his freshman year, I think he's well on his way to being someone that's going to be very special at Georgia Tech."

TRANSFERS:

O'Leary said he was contacted by LSU about Mike Lillie, the sophomore tight end who was suspended earlier this week along with a second tight end, Chris Myers.

O'Leary granted a release, meaning Lillie could transfer to LSU. By sitting out this year as an ineligible, both players could play again next year at another school.

NEW DIGS:

The Jackets displayed their new white uniforms on Friday. They resemble the ones sported in the Carquest Bowl last season, but with darker trim around the letters.

Tech plans to wear white at home except against Boston College and Wake Forest, who each vetoed the proposition.

"When I first took over, I got 50 letters a week on what to wear," O'Leary said. "I don't get very many now, because I'm very pig-headed about these things."