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Updated: May 14th, 2012 6:30pm
Zulgad's Roundup: Rookies had rocky beginning before becoming friends

Zulgad's Roundup: Rookies had rocky beginning before becoming friends

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - From the moment the Minnesota Vikings selected Arkansas wide receiver Greg Childs with the 134th overall pick in the fourth round of last month's NFL draft, it seemed like a feel good story.

Sixteen picks earlier in the same round the Vikings had taken Jarius Wright, who also played wide receiver at Arkansas. The two had a much longer history than that.

They had originally met as third-graders at Thomas C. Brunson Elementary in the small town of Warren, Ark., and played high school football together before joining the Razorbacks. Both immediately expressed how happy they were to remain together, leading one to believe that these two had been pals from the moment they met.

Turns out that wasn't the case.

"I came from a little town called Hermitage which was 10 miles outside of Warren," Childs said. "We weren't really cool until about the fifth grade. ... (Wright) was just a bad little kid. I don't know. When I came to Warren he had a little group that kind of ran the school."

Wright, who confirmed he led the social circle in his third-grade class, doesn't deny that Childs had to put in some work to gain acceptance.

"Greg was the new kid on the block, and I was already a pretty popular kid and had a lot of friends, so me and all my friends used to chase Greg every recess," Wright said, laughing at the memory. "I don't know what it was about him, we just didn't like him too much."

The only thing was Wright and his friends never were able to catch Childs.

"He would always be first out to recess, so he would already be running by the time me and my friends got out," Wright said. "If we ever got too close, he would just run by the teacher. He would never tell, but he would always hide by the teacher for sure."

So what changed?

Simple, Wright and his buddies realized Childs had athletic talent. But even that took some time.

"In elementary school we would play football a lot at recess, so we never picked Greg because, like I said, we never liked him," Wright said, "so we always wanted to be the ones to tackle him. He used to go sit in the end zone where we couldn't hit him, and they used to just throw the ball as far as they could and he would just jump over everybody and catch it.

"(As) we got older, we finally realized, 'He can play some sports so we can be friends with this guy now.'"

Childs, who is now 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, always had a height advantage.

"They used to just throw it deep, and I used to just jump up and catch it," he said. "So (Wright) was like, 'Aw, yeah, we've got to be friends with this guy.'"

The pickup games played by the kids in Warren were serious stuff, according to Wright, and even involved the teams drawing up their own playbooks.

The first time Childs and Wright were actually teammates came in seventh grade when they were able to start playing organized football. The friendship has been solid since that point.

"We have no problems with each other, we are good friends and get along really well," Wright said. "We're happy together."

Wright found out the Vikings had drafted his friend after talking to Vikings coaches on the Saturday he was picked. He had taken the call outside his house, walked back in and saw Childs' name pop up on the screen. "I didn't see the team," Wright said. "Then I looked across and saw the team and was like, 'Oh, man ...'"

While both Childs and Wright will be battling for spots on the Vikings' 53-man roster, they actually bring very different things to the table.

Childs was considered a big-time prospect by some before tearing the patella tendon in his right knee, coming back too soon and then having a senior season that didn't live up to his expectations. Childs doesn't have great speed, but his size gives him the potential to be effective in the red zone and makes him a downfield threat because of his ability to go over defensive backs.

Wright, meanwhile, isn't a big guy (5-10, 180 pounds) but he figures to backup Percy Harvin as a slot receiver and provide speed from that position.

Playing flanker much of last season, Wright finished second in the Southeastern Conference with an average of 5.5 receptions per game and led the conference with 93.08 yards a game. He established school season-records with 66 receptions for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Vikings also are confident Wright can compete for the punt return job, a spot they have been looking to fill for several seasons.

Wright said during the Vikings' recent rookie minicamp that he is excited to spend time learning from Harvin.

"I actually haven't had a chance to talk to him yet, but I can't wait to see him," Wright said. "I can't wait to hear what he has to say and learn from a guy like that. Percy Harvin is a guy I've really looked up to my whole life.

"I remember we played Florida in Fayetteville, this was Percy Harvin's junior year and it was just my freshman year, and I'm sitting over here looking, I'm like, 'That's Percy Harvin.' I'm shell shocked and I'm getting ready to play a football game. I can't explain how happy I am to be a part of this team and get a chance to be beside such a great guy."

Childs is an interesting pick because of the potential he showed before suffering the serious knee injury in the fourth quarter of an October victory over Vanderbilt during the 2010 season. Childs, a junior at the time, had 46 catches for 659 yards and six touchdownsfor the Razorbacks and had topped 80 yards receiving in four games.

Childs finished sixth on the Razorbacks with 21 receptions for 240 yards and no touchdowns as a senior. He said the normal recovery time for a patella injury is a year and a half but he returned in seven months.

"There's a very big chip on my shoulder," said Childs, who made it clear his knee is now 100 percent. "I'm not going to sit here and say it'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."

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier is hopeful that Childs can return to the form he showed in 2010.

"His junior season was his best year," Frazier said. "His senior season, coming off an injury, wasn't quite up to the form that he had the year before so we're hoping, like a lot of guys who have knee injuries, that the second year is the breakout year. If that's the case, we'll be the beneficiaries and he could be the steal of the draft."

Frazier also hopes the Vikings, coming off a 3-13 season, can benefit from a couple of guys who not only eventually became good friends but also are used to winning.

"They're great friends as you would expect and tremendous players," Frazier said. "They (were) reminding me, 'Coach, we've always been winners. Everywhere we went." I said, 'Hallelujah, we'll take that. Bring some of that with you.' We're glad to have them and looking forward to seeing how they progress. "

Set at Winter Park

If the Vikings had gotten a new stadium in Arden Hills, the popular theory was that the organization would have relocated its entire operation to that area and left its Winter Park complex in Eden Prairie.

However, now that approval for a new stadium has come on the Metrodome site the expected plan is for the Vikings to remain in Eden Prairie for the foreseeable future.

Owner Zygi Wilf already has made several improvements to Winter Park since buying the Vikings in 2005 -- this includes redoing the practice fields and building additions onto the building -- and this means it's likely more work will be done.

Parise to Wild?

New Jersey captain Zach Parise has played a key role in helping the Devils reach the Eastern Conference Finals, where they are facing the New York Rangers.

Parise, who had four goals and four assists in 12 games entering Monday, is set to become a free agent on July 1 and there has been no lack of speculation the Minnesota Wild will make a strong attempt to bring the son of former North Star J.P. Parise back to these parts.

During an appearance on "Judd & Phunn" on Monday on 1500 ESPN, NBC Sports Network analyst Pierre McGuire said he expects the Wild, Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh to be aggressive in trying to sign the 27-year-old left winger.

As for the Devils potentially keeping Parise, McGuire said: "I talk to Zach a lot. I know how proud he is to be a member of the New Jersey Devils. I also know -- and he's too much of a gentleman to say this - the reality of the situation is the New Jersey Devils have had tremendous financial problems over the last six to 12 months and negotiations between Zach Parise's agents, Newport Sports Management, and people with the New Jersey Devils making financial decisions have broken off.

"I know they haven't talked since about late December, early January. That's not good news. I know that Zach's really proud of what the team's accomplished and he loves Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk and all the players.

"This guy is so proud of the team. But the reality is that they haven't talked and so at some point when you've got a player as precious as this player is, you either have to say, 'OK, we're getting this done or once our season is over and the trade freeze is off we're going to trade his rights to see if a team wants to try to pay us something because we can't get a deal done.'"

McGuire added that he felt when the Wild traded defenseman Nick Schultz to Edmonton for defenseman Tom Gilbert at the trade deadline that the move was made as a message that Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher had every intention of making bids for Parise and Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter, who could hit the free-agent market as well.

"That was a shot across the NHL bow, in my opinion, without having any inside information, that they were going to make a massive play for Ryan Suter and a massive play for Zach Parise," McGuire said. "One, because Parise and Suter are really good friends, two, because Gilbert and Suter are extremely good friends from their days at the University of Wisconsin.

"That sent a pretty big message to the entire NHL, guys that pay attention to these trends, that they better be careful."

McGuire believes that Detroit and Chicago also will make strong bids for Suter if the Predators don't get somethign done with him and he hits the market.

End game

• The Twins' 2-1 loss on Saturday dropped them to 0-5 on Saturdays, the only day they haven't won a game this season.

• Twins hitters had walked 31 times in their past five games entering Monday, the most in baseball during that span ahead of Atlanta and Milwaukee (22). 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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