Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Finally, some peace and quiet.
After a solid month of Weekly World News-quality fodder from Hog sporting circles, the past few days were practically sleepy. Arkansas's baseball team, swooning in the middle of its conference slate as it often does, managed to take two of three games at highly rated Florida to nudge back over .500 in SEC play. I could go into why I think the Hogs' hitting coach, Todd Butler, is consistently pardoned year after year for overseeing an underperforming lineup, but hey, let's not sully the vibe.
Arguably the better news is that during a normally staid day of the NFL draft, Saturday saw receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs both go in the fourth round to the Minnesota Vikings. Selfishly, and in full disclosure, I loved this because I happen to be a mostly lifelong fan of that franchise. The more compelling aspect of the story, clearly, is that Wright and Childs continue to be joined at the hip: they grew up together and starred at Warren High School, arrived on the U of A campus at the same time in 2008 to be integral parts of a new brand of offense and now head to the professional ranks together.
Minnesota is an ideal destination for Wright and Childs due to a paucity of receiving depth, and because Adrian Peterson's presence in the backfield commands so much attention from opposing defenses. Christian Ponder looks the part at quarterback, but he spent much of his rookie campaign dancing around behind a makeshift line and having few viable options in the passing game. The Warren duo cures the latter ill in a rather substantial way: Wright's downfield speed and experience working as a slot receiver make him a perfect complement to Percy Harvin, and Childs' height and muscle give him the ability to separate from defensive backs in the open field and elevate in the red zone.
We've seen those attributes for four seasons, of course. Wright's 13-catch, 281-yard day against Texas A&M was one of college football's best individual performances of the entire 2011 season; he willed the Hogs back from the dead with countless grabs over the middle, stretched the field for a long opening score, run-blocked on the perimeter like few "small" receivers can, and pounced on a fumble in the end zone to give the Hogs a critical touchdown in a furious second half rally.
Some of Childs' best moments came, oddly enough, in Razorback defeats. His dash to the end zone to complete a 75-yard scoring play in the fourth quarter of a controversial loss at top-ranked Florida was an exemplary demonstration of his ability to shake defenders and reach for extra yardage at the end of a reception. As a freshman, Childs came up with a remarkable long touchdown reception late against Ole Miss, reaching up for a 22-yard score that put the Hogs within striking distance in the waning moments. His performance at Auburn in 2010 was a personal highlight reel: nine catches on a variety of routes, 164 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion reception.
What set both Wright and Childs apart was a competitive spirit that, frankly, seems lacking in other receivers. Wright nearly stumbled on a post pattern in 2010 against Mississippi State, but he recovered his footing and outraced the entire Bulldog secondary on the way to an 89-yard touchdown that ended up being the longest play of his exceptional career. Childs tore his patella tendon against Vanderbilt weeks before that, doing something he regularly did: twisting and contorting his 6-3 frame to gain whatever precious yardage he could. Both bounced back from dropped passes here and there by making crucial plays. Wright returned from an early injury in 2011 to subject his body to enormous punishment against Alabama; Childs was clearly not at full speed for much of his senior season but had several key catches against Auburn, LSU and Kansas State.
Having those tawdry and surreal clouds hanging over the program of late only reaffirms that the story of Wright and Childs is something we all should embrace for the long term. Here are two young men whose lifelong bond on the football field will continue, for the time being, and whose productivity and progress bookended the Bobby Petrino era nicely. We may lament the senseless way that the head coach short-circuited his own career here, but through these two players, we nonetheless have an ongoing and engaging example of why "Bobby Petrino: 2008-2012" should not be etched on a headstone but rather proudly on the pages of the school's record books. Two kids from Warren, Arkansas, were able to craft their own legacies even if their leader couldn't sustain his own.