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Unexpected Gift Pushed LU Toward Next Title

November 26, 2009  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Liberty's Ian Childress

Liberty's Ian Childress

Editorial Note: This feature on Ian Childress ran in the sixth edition of Flames Illustrated, serving as the Senior Day feature for Liberty's final home game against VMI Nov. 7. Childress finished the season ranked fifth on the team with 46 tackles, allowing the senior to complete his career at Liberty with 136 career tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks, four interceptions, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles. Childress was part of the winningest senior class in program history, as the group finished the last four years with a 32-13 record and three Big South championships.

The conclusion of every football season usually marks the close of a chapter in the lives of those who are graduating the following spring. Each year, coaches are accustomed to saying goodbye to those who have put in four years of hard work.

Last season, Flames senior outside linebacker Ian Childress thought he had played his last down at Liberty. However, this past summer, the Bedford, Va., native received a phone call that gave him a new lease to his four years of eligibility.

During his freshman season in 2005, several of the Flames' key linebackers went down heading into a road matchup with Connecticut, including Wes Lambert and Manny Rojas. After lining up across from the Huskies, Childress suffered a thumb injury, adding to the Flames' disabled list. As a result, the linebacker did not take the field the remainder of the season.

When head coach Danny Rocco took over the program's helm the following year, talks began to surface as to whether or not Childress could apply for a medical hardship due to his injury.

Shortly after the close of the 2008 season, Childress was approached about the possibilities of applying for an extra year of eligibility. The Flames' coaching staff then took all the required steps in order to complete the process, from gathering the necessary paperwork to sending in letters of recommendations from previous Liberty assistant coaches.

Upon submitting a request to the NCAA, it was not long until Childress received word about his collegiate football future. While working in West Virginia this past June, he noticed he had one missed call one his cell phone. The call was from Rocco. As Childress listened to his coach's voicemail, a child-like grin began to form upon his face.

"All the eligible players are back in town for the start of workouts today, so I'm just wondering where you're at right now," Rocco said in his message to Childress.

Once Childress returned to the practice field, it was time to play catch-up. After all, he had missed the entire spring season and needed to get back into football shape. Fortunately for Childress, his mini hiatus was Favre-esque in that he had only missed a few months from his normal training regimen. Defensive coordinator Tom Clark noted that the player's knowledge of the defense allowed him to reconfigure quickly.

"Spring ball is developmental and he was beyond the developmental stage," Clark said. "Because he's so mature and has had so much time in the system, I don't think it was that much of an adjustment."

After undergoing surgery this summer to alleviate a nagging injury, Childress began preparing himself for the start of the 2009 season. With the help of strength and conditioning coaches Bill Gillespie and Dave Williams, the linebacker was able to rapidly return to game day shape.

"It took me a little while to get back into the rhythm of things," Childress said. "For the most part, though, it's like I didn't even miss a beat."

The outside backer's numbers provide support to that statement. Through the Flames' first eight contests this season, Childress sits at fourth on the team in total tackles (37), just 22 shy of reaching his career-high of 59. The 37 stops on the season helped push his career total over 100, and the senior enters today's matchup with the Keydets as the program's third leading active career tackler with 127 stops and tied for the best mark with 13 tackles for a loss,

"He's done very well," Clark said when evaluating his player's performance thus far. "He's good against the pass, so we've negated a lot of peoples' ability to pass well on the field."

Childress displayed his knack for disrupting the pass in Liberty's 55-19 victory over Presbyterian on Oct. 31. During the first quarter, the senior intercepted the ball deep within Blue Hose territory. Two plays later, the Flames found the end zone on a draw play by quarterback Tommy Beecher, giving Liberty a two-touchdown lead.

"He is an exceptionally good coverage player," Clark noted. "He's at the point now where he's mastered the position."

The reemergence of Childress to the Flames roster this season has been coined by Clark as an "unexpected gift." Like the rest of last year's senior class, the coordinator thought he would have to say goodbye to No. 32. Instead, he now finds himself coaching the returning senior one last time.
"It's a strange feeling," Clark said, referring to the idea of coaching Childress an extra year. "It was definitely comforting because we knew we had some stability at the outside linebacker position and the ingredients to keep the defense moving forward."

When Childress cleans out his locker at Liberty for a second time, he will likely make his way to the sidelines in hopes of becoming a collegiate coach. If that day does come, he knows that like his current mentors, he too must become accustomed to bidding players farewell as they start a new chapter in their lives.

Although doing so will not be easy, Childress will have a leg up on other first year coaches, for he already knows what it is like to say goodbye ? twice.

By Eric Brown
Liberty Assistant Athletics Communications Director