Riley Childs knows the answer to perhaps the most challenging trivia question regarding Nixa football from last season, namely because he is the answer.
Childs isn’t the name even the most die-hard Eagles fans associate with the leaders of Nixa’s defense a year ago. But he indeed topped the team in sacks by grounding opposing quarterbacks on four occasions.
“I led the team in sacks and hope to do it again this year,” Childs said. “I plan on making a lot of big plays.”
Despite Childs’ distinction as the Eagles’ sack-master, he was relatively anonymous while positioned alongside fellow linebackers Noah Gibson, Logan Ayers, Trent McFall and Nick Nielsen. They were all senior standouts who combined for 353 tackles.
Childs is among the top candidates to fill the gaping void Nixa has at linebacker this season. He feels ready for an elevated role after being mentored by McFall, an outside linebacker like himself.
“He showed me all the technique and drills and taught me how to be physical,” Childs said. “He took me under his wing and helped me out. All the older guys had a lot of experience and taught us well.”
Childs gained experience by playing an average of two quarters a night.
“I would come in on what we call ’50 ‘and go to weak-side outside linebacker and blitz off the back side,” he said.
Of Nixa’s group of 11 linebackers vying for playing time, Childs has the most experience. Stephen Ward was also on his way to gaining reps last year by regularly spelling Ayers. But Ward went down with a hamstring injury in Week Three and never returned.
Now a senior, he has his sights set on being a defensive dynamo.
“I was ready for that last year,” Ward said. “I was playing a lot the first couple of games. If I would have been able to keep going last year, I feel I would have ended up starting. But that injury set me back. This year, I’m coming in pretty fresh. I’m feeling good and strong. I’m so ready for this year.”
The play in practices of Childs, Ward, Antonio Perez, Michael Turner, Jaden Abin, Dylan Nelson, Clay Barnett and the rest of the Eagles’ linebacking corps have helped coach Rich Rehagen feel better and better about his second line of defense, despite their inexperience.
“It’s a very new group,” Rehagen said. “For the most part, it’s guys learning the position day by day. We’re learning something new every day, while they’re making progress. I can tell they’re starting to learn what we want to do. I see each one of them learning something every day. I’m happy with what they’ve been doing.”
In addition to inexperience, a glaring characteristic of the linebackers is they are a bit under-sized, particularly in comparison to their predecessors. Childs thinks he and his cohorts can thrive as risk-takers by bursting through defensive lines and penetrate into offensive backfields.
“We’re quick and athletic. What we lack in strength we gain in speed, agility and instincts,” he said. “We’re trying to do our best and do good things. We’re very excited. We hope to put a beatdown on everybody (at next week’s jamboree at Kickapoo) and get ready for Carthage (in Ween One).
“We plan on making a name for ourselves.”