SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — What makes Jarell Childs an effective linebacker in Kansas State’s defense?
The question can be answered with one word: speed.
“When you are playing against all this spread offense, you want guys that are fast on your defense,” K-State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes said. “We are a fast defensive team. Guys might not credit us for that, but we have good team speed. Jarell has added to that and given us the chance to be successful, because of his speed.”
Next to fellow linebacker Arthur Brown, Childs is the fastest defender on the K-State roster. That athleticism, combined with his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame, made him a perfect fit in the middle of K-State’s 4-2-5 scheme this season. The senior made 64 tackles, including 4 1/2 for loss, and recovered two fumbles while starting in seven games.
Few expected him to play such a key role in his final season, considering he came to K-State as a running back and made small contributions in two injury-plagued seasons at linebacker. But once he recovered from torn ligaments in his wrist and knee, he started contributing consistently.
His quickness allows him to drop back into coverage when receivers and tight ends come across the middle, and his size allows him to stop the run and make tackles at the line of scrimmage.
Not every linebacker can do all three. Because Childs can, he rarely came off the field late in the year after Tre Walker suffered a season-ending injury. Without Walker, K-State was unable to run its base 4-3 look. But coaches were comfortable adding a defensive back to the secondary and letting Childs roam the middle with Brown.
“He’s a good player. He has had a tremendous year,” K-State linebackers coach Mike Cox said. “He is one of those linebackers who runs really well and adds something to our defense. He is a great coverage linebacker, but he is able to rush when we are blitzing, too. His ability to run has really helped us out.”
That goes back to his history as a running back.
When Childs first arrived on campus from Oak Park High in Kansas City, Mo., where he played defensive back and running back, he expected to play offense. He sat out his first season with a redshirt, but rushed for 81 yards the following year behind current NFL running back Daniel Thomas.
With time, Childs thinks he could have become a quality running back for the Wildcats, but he didn’t argue when K-State coach Bill Snyder suggested he switch to defense. He thought it would take him less time to become a starter at linebacker.
“I miss all the shine of running back, having the ball, but I like contact. I like being able to tackle people and be a lot more aggressive,” Childs said. “My speed and quickness is obviously a plus. It helps me get around blockers and make plays.”
His biggest play came during a victory at Oklahoma, when Justin Tuggle sacked Landry Jones near the goal line, causing a fumble. Childs scooped it up and fell into the end zone for a touchdown.
He made several other memorable plays, including 2 1/2 sacks of his own, but that play will always stick out.
“I will probably never forget that,” Childs said. “It was a rush. I didn’t even know I was in the end zone. I just picked the ball up and dove. They said I scored and I went crazy. I don’t remember how I celebrated, because it was such a big rush.”
He likely would have scored more touchdowns had he stayed on offense. But his speed made a lasting impact on K-State’s defense.