Stevenage's rising star Luther James-Wildin makes waves on and off the pitch but is far too modest to blow his own trumpet
PUBLISHED: 16:22 02 October 2018 | UPDATED: 16:43 02 October 2018
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Stevenage's highly-rated defender Luther James-Wildin is far too modest to blow his own trumpet but the lifesaver-turned footballer is a class act on and off the pitch. Read Layth Yousif's exclusive interview with the star who has made waves on and off the pitch
Dino Maamria’s high-flying Stevenage face Exeter City at St James Park on Tuesday evening in a mouth-watering fourth against third clash.
They head into the match with Matt Taylor’s side brimming full of confidence after their hard-fought 1-0 victory at Carlisle on Saturday.
Boro are one of the form teams in League Two with three wins from their last five league games, with a number of players impressing including James-Wildin.
Maamria, the charismatic Tunisian who replaced previous boss Darren Sarll six months ago after the Lamex outfit underperformed, analysed the squad he inherited before opting on a dramatic overhaul during the summer, drafting in 17 new players.
It was a gamble, but one which has paid off handsomely so far.
Former Nuneaton Town boss Maamria tapped into his expert knowledge of the non-league game to snap up James-Wildin from Liberty Way in June.
The highly-rated James-Wildin had spent time at Jamie Vardy’s V9 Academy and made his international debut for Antigua and Barbuda in March and has been a standout performer for Stevenage this season.
The 20-year-old right-back possesses athleticism, pace, power and technique as well as an excellent temperament – and is tipped to play at a far higher level one day soon by many seasoned observers.
The former Notts County academy youth is certainly relishing his time back in league football.
Speaking exclusively to CometSport at the club’s well-appointed training ground, Bragbury End ahead of the trip to Exeter James-Wildin reflected on his startling progress, saying: “I wasn’t expecting to get back into the football league as quickly as I did. But playing against hardened characters in non-league is a perfect environment to improve your game on so many levels.
“If you can show a bit of composure and quality in those lower leagues against the aggression, you will stand out.
“I feel like that’s what’s helped me get from the Conference North to Stevenage.
“Being at Stevenage is exactly what I had hoped for. We’ve had a lot of tough games and every single one has been a learning curve for me.
“I feel like I’m improving, there’s still a long way to go. Hopefully game by game, I keep on getting better. Luckily for me it’s worked out ok so far.”
The stylish defender is being modest.
His energetic performances down the flank, in attack and defence, allied with his defensive discipline, positioanl awareness, vision and excellent distribution, have been a highlight of Boro’s season so far.
A polished performance in the 3-1 victory at Crawley Town in early August set the tone, along with offering defensive solidly in the hard-fought 0-0 draw at a lively Forest Green Rovers a few weeks later have already been noted by an ever-growing number of scouts.
He showed his character in a battling 3-1 defeat at Carrow Road in the first round of the Carabao Cup after a sticky start. Boro held their Championship opponents for long spells aided by another non-league recruit James Ball until they succumbed to two late goals.
Ball signed from Stockport in the summer and his quick feet and vision has seen the goalscoring midfielder net three times already this term including the equaliser in East Anglia.
But what about James-Wildin?
I ask him to assess his strengths.
He considers before replying, a sign he’s a player who thinks about the game off-the-pitch too.
Yet, before he answers he pays credit to the squad, saying: “There’s a great set of lads around me. There are young and experienced players, so it’s perfect for me to have those sorts of people to guide me into a becoming a better footballer.
“Some of my assets are going forwards, driving with the ball and just being involved with overlapping runs.
“I like to think that I’m a good one versus one defender, stopping crosses early and just being able to dominate my winger.
“But mainly I like to get forward. I’d like to create more assists this season – that’s one of my biggest goals, to contribute to as many goals as possible this season really.”
One key to James-Wildin’s discipline is that he started off as a central midfielder.
During his time as a first year professional at Meadow Lane he went on loan to Grantham and played 35 games for the Gingerbreads.
With a change of manager at Notts County there followed a period of uncertainty at the club as he eventually signed for Nuneaton in a permanent deal.
He started to make real progress and was able to enjoy his football, also playing 35 games for the Warwickshire-based outfit, even popping up with a couple of goals.
He explains: “I started off at centre-mid but one of the reasons I became a right-back is because I enjoyed that one vs one battle.
“I’m enjoying it the more I play in that position and I’m learning. There’s so many parts to the position I can improve on right now I feel like I’m at a base level, even if it’s a good base level to improve on.
“I used to go from training to being a lifeguard. On my days off I’d being doing shifts on poolside. I’d go straight from poolside shifts to training.”
A lifeguard? I immediately inject, headlines flashing in my head.
Tell me more. But first, what strikes you when you meet the engaging Leicester-born footballer is that he is a humble man.
Not many of his team-mates even know what he did to supplement his meagre non-league income.
The engaging smile disappears as he recounts the day he saved a person’s life.
“I was at a busy pool and luckily I went pretty much a year without having to go in.
“Then as soon as I handed in my notice I had two incidents in one week. One where I had to go in and get a girl who had just gone out of her depth.”
And the other?
He looks faintly embarrassed at his efforts. Which is what every genuine hero does.
He continues: “The other one was where there had actually been a severe drown in the pool.
“It was all hands on deck and all CPR. We had to get an ambulance. We were a team and there were five of us there and it was all hands on deck.
“It was a crazy experience. Luckily the person survived.
“It’s something that I wouldn’t want to experience anytime soon. But it’s all learning, and I know I’ve got that in the locker as well now.”
From lifeguard he was a lifesaver. A hero on and off the pitch.
Although you wouldn’t guess from his sheepish look.
His side are on the second leg of an arduous road trip which has taken in Cumbria and now faces the long drive down the M4 and M5 to Exeter, clocking up more than 1,000 miles in a matter of days in the process.
Wildin-James returns to footballer mode and replies: “It’s not something I’ve had to experience before – going from one end to the country to the other. “But we’ll do everything we can to get there as quickly and as comfortably as possible and just prepare for the game as well as we can.
“It is what it is, we’re not complaining. Hopefully we can get the three points at Exeter and see where it gets us.”
Unprompted he also hails the loyal Boro fans, many of who are also on the second leg of their long week.
Even the ones who got stuck on the M6 prior to kick-off at Brunton Park on Saturday.
The club, galvanised off-the-field by young dynamic CEO Alex Tunbridge immediately offered refunds to those unfortunate souls who had to listen to the game on the coach en route somewhere in the Lake District.
He adds: “The fans have been brilliant. We massively appreciate their support it because if they’re not there what are we playing for?
“It really does help when things are down and we still hear them and it pushes us to go again.”
As the interview winds down I throw in one more question.
Asking a footballer about their musical tastes is a risky business for a final question because most have a passing interest with R&B simply because they have bland tastes, the 21st century equivalent of Phil Collins being the dreadful choice of many pro’s in the 1980s.
Yet having spent time in James-Wildin’s company I sense he is a footballer with a hinterland, with depth.
“I play the trumpet,” he replies.
“Yeah. I was in an orchestra. I was in a jazz band. I was going to do my Grade 8 on my trumpet before I signed my scholarship at Notts County.
“I’ve got it in me to listen to a bit of classical every now and again but the time has to be right.
“I love a bit of Miles Davis. He was the inspiration back then. I’ve got a very nice trumpet at home.”
When was the last time you played it?
“It’s got to be a couple of years,” he ponders thoughtfully, before adding: “I’m more into the piano now.”
Wait. The piano, I ask?
“To be fair I just play the piano because I just enjoy playing it. It’s quite easy to just sit down and play. Whereas with the trumpet you have to warm up and it takes time.
“That’s maybe why I started playing the piano – because you can just sit down and play.”
So if Stevenage do well this season you might be getting the trumpet out again?
His big grin returns. “Why not? Join the band and just blast my trumpet out. Yeah, why not.”
If the talented James-Wildin carries on progressing at the stunning rate he has been in League Two this season the thought of him playing the trumpet in celebration of a successful year for his team and himself is a promising prospect.
Just like James-Wildin himself.
Follow Layth on Twitter @laythy29