Anatomy of an Era: Clinton Childs, Part 1
Excerpted from Chapter 35, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 1 by Paul Koch
Sport, that wrinkled Care derides, and Laughter, holding both his sides.
Come, and trip it, as you go, on the light fantastic toe.
-John Milton, L’Allegro
Have you ever wondered what it might feel like to be trampled by a raging & rampaging Miura bull on the stone streets of Pamplona, Spain? Had you been a Husker opponent in the mid-’90’s and tried to stop running back Clinton Childs (a bull in his own right from the streets of Omaha) you would have done well to suffer the punishment without having to spend ten hours flying in coach back to the U.S. Then again, a restful return trip of the same duration may have put you in good stead to recovery. Nebraska’s backs under the tutelage of Frank Solich always were some of the fastest, toughest, meanest SOB’s this side of the fifty, as they not only refused to run out of bounds, but were notorious for those jaw-busting rips of the free-arm.
In the course of setting up conversations for this project I’ve had the most difficult time finding a day and time to accommodate Coach Solich, and the last time we spoke he was smack dab in the middle of a winter’s drive to Cincinnati in blizzard conditions with a bad cell phone connection. His being a college head coach, who knows when or if we’ll ever meet up, so I’m trying to get a feel both for him and his disciples at every turn. Let’s hear what Clinton reveals as we proceed full speed ahead.
Notable quote #1:
“We were told in the huddle that we had to run a certain play and we had the confidence that the big guys up front could get it done.”
Scholarship recruit, Running Back, Omaha, Nebraska (North)
Where are they now? Omaha, Nebraska, Mentor/Coach
Question: It’s great talking to you again, Clinton. So what are you doing these days?
Clinton Childs: I did security at my old high school, Omaha North. I was doing that probably about 7 years. Working with the kids, that’s my forte. I was coaching football for 11 years and coached wrestling for 8 years, too.
Q: You were a wrestler in high school, right?
CC: Oh yeah, that was my first love.
Q: Really? Do you wish you could have gotten a little mat time at Nebraska?
CC: Oh yeah, I would have loved it. I went in and worked out with them a few times. Actually, Tim Neumann recruited me to wrestle down there.
Q: And how did you make the decision to play football, then?
CC: Well, at the time there wasn’t any money to be made in wrestling. There was in football.
Q: Any family?
CC: Yes, I’m married now, have a little baby girl who’ll be two next month. My wife’s name is Loretta and my daughter’s name in Sania. She’s definitely got Daddy wrapped around her little finger.
Q: They’ll turn a hard man soft, won’t they? I thought I wanted a boy, but I wouldn’t trade mine for any boy in the world.
CC: That’s exactly what I tell people.
Q: So your first fall camp, what year was that?
CC: 1993. I was actually a Proposition 48 coming out of high school. My grade point average was fine, but my ACT score was something that I kind of wasn’t taking serious at the time. So from the time of my senior year in high school to my freshman year in college, I had a lot of maturing to do and got it accomplished and went on to have a fairly decent career down in Lincoln.
Q: I spoke with Dennis and Zim recently…
CC: Yeah, I liked both of those guys, Keith Zimmer and Dennis Leblanc. They were good guys, they were a huge part of what the university stood for. Academically, there were a lot of great guys around the system, the academic side. The trainers, Doak Ostergard, he worked really well with all of us and tried to keep us healthy. If I had to name some of my favorite people down there, Doak comes to mind, and Bryan Bailey is probably my all-time favorite.
Q: Tell me why, Clinton.
CC: You know, as we all knew Bryan, he was probably a hundred-sixty-some pounds with a bag of nickels in his pocket. Bryan Bailey? It didn’t matter what time in the morning it was, Bryan would get up and he would work out with whoever asked him to. You know, Bryan, by the end of the day, would probably have literally -and this is no joke- probably 10 workouts in over the course of the day.
Q: He typified the term ‘over-training’?
CC: Still today, if you look at Bryan Bailey and the techniques he used to get people prepared, Bryan was the guy who would not let you get tired, because his whole thing was, “Do you know how many times I have to work out today? I’m still going, and I’m still waiting to go work out with you, so let’s see what we can do.”
Bryan was also responsible for working with a lot of guys when their careers were over, for the NFL scouts and stuff like that. Bryan, he specifically pulled ’em to the side and got some things out of them that were needed to get them a legitimate look in the NFL. I haven’t spoken to Bryan in a while. I actually went out to the USC-UCLA football game a few years ago and I hung out with Bryan a little bit at the stadium, sat and chatted with him. I just wanted to make sure I touched base with him. There’s no doubt about the type of impact Bryan has on the young men’s lives while they‘re playing college football, and even after their careers. If you look at the type of guys he’s worked with, Calvin Jones, Lawrence Phillips, myself, Damon Benning? And then he leaves Nebraska and he gets the same results out of guys like Reggie Bush and LenDale White and those type of guys. That is a true credit to Bryan and how well he gets people to respond to what it is he’s trying to get out of them.
Q: There’ll never be another like him, Clinton.
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Q: Do you recall your first days on campus?
CC: My first days on campus were about finally really having to step up and becoming a young man, a lot of growing up taking place coming out of high school. And also having a level head. In high school football my head coach was Herman Colvin, and the things, the way that he pushed me to get things done, he was very much like a huge father figure to me and he still is the same way to me today, but just the maturity standpoint is probably one of the biggest things that I can recall. Because like I said, coming out of high school I probably had one of the best high school careers in state history, and when I completed my career I was the #2 all-time leading rusher in Class A’s history. And I was only 22 yards behind Calvin Jones.
Q: Hey buddy, that’s pretty slim bragging rights there for Calvin…
CC: (laughs) We had a pretty good style of offense where we ran a featured back in the running game, and it gave me a look not only from Nebraska but from schools all around the country.
Q: That being said, if not for Nebraska what would have been your second choice back then?
CC: Well, I never heard from USC. I got a letter from the University of Washington and I was being heavily recruited by the University of Miami. They actually didn’t offer James Stewart a scholarship until they found out I wasn’t going to sign with them.
Q: Was Miami recruiting Abdul Muhammad about the same time?
CC: He was a year ahead of me, but I think they did. And that’s funny you bring Abdul’s name up. Myself and Abdul now share an office together. We just started last week as the Gang Intervention Coordinators at the North Omaha Boys and Girls Club.
Q: Congratulations, Clinton. I’m sure you’ll have a major impact on a lot of kids’ lives.
C: Well, that’s the goal, trying to be an asset to the community I came from and have the same type of impact that my high school football coach had on me.
Q: Did you know many people on campus when you got there to Lincoln?
CC: Tony Veland and I, we played at rival high schools and we knew each other throughout our high school careers. And I knew Tony had already gone to Nebraska. I knew Erick Strickland and Andre Woolridge with basketball. I knew Clester Johnson. There were actually a lot of guys. Cory Schlesinger, I knew him from all throughout high school. He was also a wrestler.
Q: Did you guys butt heads very often?
CC: No, we were in different weight classes. But I knew Cory, we used to sit around wrestling tournaments, always sat around to chit-chat and things like that. So there were quite a few guys that I already knew.
(l to r) John Livingston, Tony Veland & Clinton Childs @ Washington, DC (Unknown Source)
Q: Makes the transition a little easier knowing that many guys, eh? And Coach Solich was your position coach, what can you tell me about Frank?
CC: Very intense, very intense. In my eyes, to this day still, he was one of the better coaches around back then. He knew his stuff. I felt really comfortable with things that he had us doing, learned a lot. Actually, all the running backs that I coached here in Omaha at the different camps and things, I basically taught them all the things that Frank taught us.
Q: Any key points of his coaching doctrine that were just hammered into your head?
CC: Oh yeah, one of the things you can always look at, the types of running backs that he had coached, your Mike Roziers, your Scotty Baldwins, myself, Calvin, Lawrence, everyone was pretty effective. And everyone learned under the same system. I’d say he coached everyone the same, so he was actually really easy to communicate with. I have nothing but good things to say about Coach Solich and the way he cared for his players And he definitely had your back.
Q: Any special drills that stand out?
CC: Well, he had a drill where he’d literally stand 5-6 yards away from us and he’d actually throw balls at us as fast as he could. You’d think he was a pitcher for the Minnesota Twins as fast as he was throwing the ball, he threw them so hard. That’s one of the drills that sticks out in my head. We had a balance drill that we did. Three-step cut was one of the drills, one of my favorite drills. Just teaching how to change direction, it was just amazing how these guys come into college football and they’re already so talented and how much you still learned under him.
Q: I take it you were pretty natural runner, then Coach Solich just gets to molding and tweaking you?
CC: Oh yeah, he did a great job at that. That is one of the biggest things that really sticks out in my mind, how much you could learn when you’re coming into college, from high school. When you have guys that come in that are high school All-American and then make them that much better, that is a true tip of the hat to that guy, for being able to enhance your ability as player.
Q: When you say he was intense, how was he intense? He wasn’t screamer, was he?
CC: Oh yeah, he had a lot of the same qualities that Coach Osborne had as far as talking with the kids and stuff like that, but he was so different, as well. He was not afraid to bring his 5’6” frame -or however tall he is- into your face and tell you about whatever it is. As soon as he’d get done whipping your butt he’d turn around and slap you on the ass and tell you, “Good job,” too.
That’s one of the things that a lot of people miss in coaching, too, telling the young man ‘good job’ after you’re done screaming at him, as well. We had a lot of fun. Individual meeting rooms, he was just one of those guys that was pretty easy to get along with. He’d done a good job with keeping everybody’s ego down when you had to deal with so many different talents in our room. At one point he had Calvin Jones in the room, he had Clinton Childs in the room, Damon Benning in the room, Lawrence Phillips in the room. Those are all quality running backs and he did a hell of a job at keeping everybody happy.
Q: How would you say he did that, Clinton?
CC: Years of experience. I’m sure what he had going on, I would probably say that was the most talented group of running backs that he ever had. He also dealt with the Roger Craigs and the Mike Roziers at the same time, but we had 4, 5 guys deep who actually rushed for over 7 yards a carry.
To be continued….
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