EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jarius Wright and Greg Childs have known each other since third grade, played organized football together since seventh grade and are now rookie receivers for the Minnesota Vikings.
It’s an unlikely tale that the two were able to remain teammates throughout their lives, starting in little Warren, Ark., then at the University of Arkansas and now as fourth-round draft picks of the Vikings. But to hear Childs recount the details, the story didn’t have such a friendly start.
Childs was actually from a smaller town outside of Warren before he moved and started school at Brunson Elementary in Warren. Wright already had his group of friends. As the new kid, Childs didn’t receive a warm welcome.
“Since the first day I came to Warren, he used to chase me around,” Childs said while participating in the Vikings’ rookie minicamp this month.
What was Wright like as a third-grader?
“He was just a bad little kid,” Childs said. “I don’t know. When I came to Warren, he had a little group that kind of like ran the school.”
Wright doesn’t shy from the facts.
“Greg Childs was a new kid on the block, and I was already a pretty popular kid who had a lot of friends, so me and all my friends used to just chase Greg every recess,” Wright said. “I don’t know what it was about. We just didn’t like him too much.”
But then Wright started to notice Childs’ athletic ability. Childs was tall, even then. Playing pickup football games in the school yard, friends saw the advantage of simply throwing the ball up and letting the taller Childs snatch it. Things really are not so different today.
Childs is a 6-foot-3, 219-pound receiver with an amazing 81-5/8 inch wingspan. At the Combine, he had a vertical leap of 38 inches and ran a 4.4-second 40. Meanwhile, Wright is 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, though he has the speed and shiftiness to make his own mismatches.
“I know they bring some big-play ability, and the objective of this draft was to get a lot of young guys that can come in here and compete,” Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman said. “Again, staying with the theme of smart, tough, passionate football players that have ability for our coaches to sit there and develop.”
Just like they did on the playground.
Though the two had a rocky beginning, football soon became the bond between Wright and Childs.
“We got older, and we finally realized, ‘Hey, he can play some sports. OK, so we can be friends with this guy now,’ ” Wright said.
Just like back in elementary school, Wright was picked first by Minnesota, taken with the 118th overall choice after a 66-catch, 1,117-yard, 12-touchdown senior season. Childs was picked 16 spots later.
Childs had a breakout sophomore season at Arkansas, racking up 48 catches for 894 yards and seven touchdowns. He started the next season and had 46 catches, 659 yards and six touchdowns in the first eight games before tearing the patellar tendon in his knee. He returned for his senior year but was never fully healthy and his numbers suffered. Childs felt he returned too early but worked to get to 100 percent before the Combine in February and now declares himself fully healthy.
With the Vikings, just as when he first met Wright, Childs feels he has something to prove.
“There’s a very big chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and say there’s not. Because before I got hurt I was considered one of the top receivers. Since I got hurt I might not have gone in the round I wanted to go in, but I’m going to come out here and give it my all.”
With Childs on the sideline, Wright picked up his production last season and finished as Arkansas’ career record-holder with 168 catches, 2,934 yards and 24 touchdowns. He averaged 17.46 yards per catch. Current Vikings receiver Percy Harvin is one of Wright’s favorite receivers, and there are similarities in their games.
“He is just another great playmaker,” Spielman said of Wright. “When he has the ball in his hands, he can be electric because of his speed, because of his ability to make people miss in space, and he has the speed to take it to the house if he gets in the open field.”
Childs and Wright, now longtime friends, were excited to land on the same NFL team. They come from a pro-style offense at Arkansas and will be given every opportunity to earn playing time with the Vikings.
“I really think the whole state of Arkansas is Vikings fans now,” Childs said.
Wright added: “It’s definitely hard to believe. I wouldn’t believe it if he weren’t here with me.”
Spoken like a true friend — even if that friendship took a while to take root.