STILLWATER — Before every Oklahoma State practice, running backs Desmond Roland and Rennie Childs have a quick talk.
As a senior who has been through all the trials, Roland is there to guide Childs, a budding sophomore from Houston.
Roland is missing spring practices after shoulder surgery, shifting the load to Childs for now.
With the possibility of junior-college transfer Tyreek Hill entering the OSU backfield, that’s pressed Childs even more to make an impression.
“I tell him he’s gotta grind every day,” Roland said. “Every day’s a grind. You gotta be consistent. That’s what the coaches love.”
That’s also where some of the problems have been for Childs, who is still considered a first-year player and unavailable to media until the fall under Mike Gundy’s rules.
The ability is there, no doubt. Last season as a true freshman, Childs played in eight games. He broke out with 45 yards on 16 carries against TCU and posted a career-high 70 yards against Texas Tech.
Before the Cotton Bowl, fullback Kye Staley called Childs the running back of the future. Former offensive lineman Parker Graham supported that bold statement.
“Next year you all are going to be talking about Rennie Childs a lot,” Graham said. “Between Des and him, there are going to be a lot of rushing yards.”
For Childs, it’s now about growing up to meet the demands of being a Big 12 running back.
“He had that freshmanitis,” Roland said. “He didn’t want to practice every day.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said Childs did enough in the fall to earn a role when the 2014 season rolls around, but coach Mike Gundy and his staff still want more from Childs.
“There’s a pattern and a path you have to take in order to play running back at this level,” Gundy said. “You have to take hits, and you gotta get sore and get tired and keep playing and take care of the football. He’s about halfway through that process.”
Running backs coach Jemal Singleton said Childs struggling with the daily routine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s part of the process, and because Childs played as a freshman, he was able to skip the pledge period.
“One of the things that’s tough for a young guy, a freshman who comes in and gets some playing time, he doesn’t have to go through the bumps and bruises of being a scout team player and thrown in the dirt, kicked around,” Singleton said. “That’s the part he has to learn.”
That comes with experience, and with Roland sitting out, that’s where Childs has benefitted. Along with Hill, Childs has taken a share of the first-team reps.
At times, he was exposed. Singleton said that’s almost by design.
“He’s strong, he’s explosive, he’s shown that,” Singleton said. “But I want you to show it to me after your 10th carry. I want you to show me that after a six-play series, and on the seventh play we hand you the football. Anybody can play the game when they’re fresh and they’re 100 percent, but as a running back, not very often are you going to be 100 percent.”
Roland said Childs has started to adjust, and if that adjustment comes full circle, it will be bad news for opposing defenses.
It’s tough enough to stop Roland, a powerful runner who can grind out a game 5 yards at a time. With Childs, there’s a combination of power and speed. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds, but has also bulked up to 205 pounds, and at 5-foot-10, he is working to become more physical.
“He’s real explosive,” Roland said. “He can make big plays at any moment. He’s just a freshman, and he was making big plays in the Big 12. That’s rare.”
All signs point to Childs having the capability to be Roland’s eventual successor as OSU’s featured back.
Now it’s a matter of proving it.
“The potential is extremely high, but all potential is is something you haven’t done,” Singleton said. “We have to see him reach the potential. We know what the ceiling is, we know what we can get to. He’s got to get there.”