As the new kid in town, Greg Childs had to work his way into the in crowd.
After a few tough years, he cracked the clique in the tiny southern Arkansas town of Warren. Jarius Wright, the ringleader, was obviously impressed because 15 years later, Childs is still by his side.
"We always do things together. This just makes us get even closer,'' Childs said Friday as they both began their NFL careers at Minnesota Vikings rookie minicamp.
The wide receivers were picked in the fourth round last weekend by a team counting on them to continue their successful run together. They've long pondered this almost-too-good-to-be-true scenario, but realized they had no control over the draft.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier spoke with them about their remarkable story of staying-together power.
"They are reminding me, `Coach, we've always been winners. Everywhere we went,''' Frazier said. "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.''
The relationship started at recess, and it was rocky at first. Football was a serious enough subject there that the young students made their own playbooks.
"We never picked Greg. We always wanted to be the ones who tackled him,'' Wright said. "He used just to go stay in the end zone where we couldn't hit him, and they used to just throw the ball as far as they can and he'd jump over everybody and catch it.''
That ability to go get the ball in tight coverage is a big reason the Vikings were interested in Childs. It was also what caught Wright's eye.
"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.
They grew up together and became two of the four players from Warren High School to sign with the University of Arkansas in 2008. The 6-foot-3, 219-pound Childs blossomed first, leading the Razorbacks in nearly every receiving category as a sophomore in 2009, including 48 catches for 894 yards and seven touchdowns.
He was on track for an even bigger junior year with 46 catches for 659 yards when he tore the patella tendon in his right knee in the eighth game against Vanderbilt. His senior year was rough after, he later acknowledged, he returned too soon. The Vikings watched him fall down the draft board, anticipating his bounce-back season will be this one.
"If that's the case, we'll be the beneficiaries and he could be the steal of the draft,'' Frazier said.
Childs said he has a "very big chip'' on his shoulder.
"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,'' he said.
Wright is only 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, but he has exceptional speed and the ability to return punts and kickoffs as well. His breakout came last year, including a 13-catch, 281-yard game against Texas A&M for a season total of 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns. He spoke eagerly about joining and learning from Percy Harvin, one of his inspirations. Arkansas played Harvin's Florida team when Childs and Wright were freshmen in 2008.
"I'm sitting over here thinking like, `Wow, that's Percy Harvin,' and I'm shell-shocked,'' Wright said.
That was about how everyone felt during the fourth round last weekend.
"No doubt about it. I became a Vikings fan last Saturday about 12:30,'' said Bo Embree, their high school coach in Warren.
A lot more satellite TV packages are about to be purchased in Arkansas for the upcoming NFL season.
"You could hear the buzz around town,'' Embree said. "They're great kids.''
Kids who came from a wide receiver factory at Warren. Embree has been the head coach there for 12 years. He said he's had 26 wide receivers, including Childs and Wright, graduate to play football in college. The two Vikings draftees lost three games their entire high school career.
The school actually has an indoor practice facility, Embree said, so honing those receiving skills is a daily pursuit. Warren plays a pass-driven, four-wide offense, the ideal way to launch a future as an NFL wide receiver.
"We catch footballs year-round,'' Embree said. "Kids come in every day from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.''
That's the kind of passion the Vikings were looking for in this draft. That's what they found in these two lifelong friends.
"I just remember sitting there with Jarius, talking with this guy at the combine. You could just see it in his eye,'' Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. "That's why the interview process is so important to us. There were some other receivers that you saw fall in the draft. But we were really focused on that passion for the game.''