Vikings rookies are together again ... and again and again

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 11, 2012 - 6:51 AM

After a rocky start, Vikings rookie receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs have been teammates through high school and college.

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No need for introductions: Vikings rookie wide receivers Jarius Wright, left, and Greg Childs have known each other since third grade.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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Perhaps the most charming aspect of the now-unbreakable bond between Jarius Wright and Greg Childs is that both Viking rookies remember the origins of their relationship identically.

Brunson Elementary in Warren, Ark. -- 1998. Childs had just moved into town from nearby Hermitage. Wright was already the established ringleader of the third grade.

Probe Childs for his memories of Wright as a rambunctious 9-year-old and he'll shake his head.

"Jarius? He was bad," Childs says. "He was a bad little kid. When I came to Warren, he had his group and they kind of ran the school. ... Nobody knew me so nobody liked me."

Wright can poke few holes in that recollection, acknowledging with a puffed-out chest that he was indeed the big man on campus with a nearly impenetrable social circle.

"Me and all my friends used to chase Greg every recess," Wright says. "I don't know what it was about. We just didn't like him very much."

So how is it that two kids who initially didn't want to be around each other now can't seem to separate? From Brunson Elementary to Warren High School.

From Warren High School to the University of Arkansas.

From Arkansas to the same destination in the NFL, where both players were not only taken in the fourth round of April's draft, they both received their welcome-to-the-league phone calls from Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman.

Wright's call came around 12:05 p.m. on April 28. About 45 minutes later, Spielman dialed Wright's childhood buddy.

"They've been together, I think, since birth," the Vikings GM joked.

So why mess with a good thing?

Double trouble

As the Vikings attempt to revive an offense that finished 28th in the NFL in passing in 2011, they're hoping both Wright and Childs can emerge as difference-makers.

Wright seems to be a knockoff version of current Vikings standout Percy Harvin. Logically, he will be used in the slot yet has enough versatility to be dangerous on the outside as well. Plus, whatever Wright lacks in size -- he's 5-10 and 182 pounds -- he makes up for with toughness and squirrel-like shiftiness.

Childs, meanwhile, will try to challenge Jerome Simpson to become the Vikings' starter at split end. He is still battling back from a torn patellar tendon in his right knee, an injury he suffered in late October 2010. The standard timetable for a return to full health with that injury is typically 15 to 18 months, which is what Childs and the Vikings are stressing as they explain the receiver's substandard 2011 production at Arkansas (21 catches, 240 yards, no TDs).

"I made the mistake of coming back too soon," Childs said.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier doesn't dwell on Childs' slow recovery as much as he envisions a perimeter weapon. When completely healthy, Childs has the speed to stretch the field vertically plus the size (6-3, 217) and strength to overpower smaller defensive backs.

Said Frazier: "He could be the steal of the draft."

Arkansas receivers coach Kris Cinkovich agrees with that assessment. Sure, Cinkovich is biased, having coached both Childs and Wright with the Razorbacks in 2010 and 2011. Still, he says, they both have the combination of talent and drive to excel in the NFL.

Wright, Cinkovich notes, tends to be the more low-key and laid back of the two but is an enthusiastic student of the game, often coming to life in team meeting rooms. Childs has a gregarious nature that makes him well-liked among teammates.

Leaving their mark

Cinkovich has no difficulty highlighting the trademark moments of both Wright and Childs during their Arkansas careers.

Childs' came between the hedges at Georgia in a heated SEC road battle in 2010. The Bulldogs had rallied to tie the score at 24 with less than four minutes to play, sending a charge through Sanford Stadium. Yet the Razorbacks went right back into attack mode. And with 20 seconds left, Childs showed off his talents.

Breaking free along the left sideline, he took a Ryan Mallett pass 16 yards downfield, then juked a Georgia safety and sprinted the final 24 yards untouched for a game-winning touchdown.

The roar in Athens, Ga., went silent.

"It was unbelievable, man," Cinkovich said. "It was like Greg had popped a balloon."

Wright delivered his indelible performance a little more than a year later with Arkansas playing Texas A&M at Cowboys Stadium. A week earlier, the Razorbacks had been hammered by Alabama and it appeared the sting from that loss was lingering.

"We thought we were ready to go," Cinkovich said. "Our kids seemed up. We had a really energetic walk-through in the morning. And the next thing you know, we were down 14-0."

Then Wright went to work, his first home run of the day coming on a 68-yard scoring bomb. By day's end, Wright had 13 catches, a school-record 281 yards and two touchdowns. Arkansas won 42-38, jump-starting a seven-game winning streak. It just so happened that Spielman was in attendance that day.

Making a connection

Nowadays, Wright and Childs have no problems praising each other's talents. But it wasn't always that way.

Fourteen years ago in Warren, the established standout couldn't imagine the new kid in town had any impressive skills. So Childs and Wright were rarely schoolyard teammates.

"We didn't like Greg much at first," Wright admitted. "So we never picked him. We wanted to be the ones to tackle him."

Soon, though, Wright realized that to tackle Childs, you had to catch him first.

Then Childs proved he was also a legitimate end-zone weapon, consistently winning jump balls for touchdowns.

Said Wright: "We finally realized, 'Hey, he can play some sports. OK, so we can be friends with this guy now.'"

Now, all these years and all these teams later, Wright and Childs will pursue success at the highest level. Side by side once again. Their tale seems made up.

"I wouldn't believe it if Greg wasn't here with me right now," Wright said.

Actually, what would be most unbelievable at this point is if Wright and Childs weren't together.

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