MISSOULA — When Isiah Childs considered transferring from Akron, he knew he had to consult his family, specifically his mother.
He and his mother are like best friends, each one trying to be there for the other. She had him when she was 17 years old, raised him as a single mother for a short period and supported him by working late-night shifts.
Childs is now working to one day support her and the rest of his family through football. He had developed his desire to succeed in athletics by looking up to NFL stars like Adrian Peterson and LaDainian Tomlinson as a kid.
So, when things weren’t working out at Akron his freshman year this past fall, Childs knew he needed to find another place where he could fulfill his potential on and off the field. He found that spot at Montana earlier this spring and transferred in with four years of eligibility left.
“My family, they’re my driving force.” he said. “There’s someone out there that’s trying to outwork me, and I can’t let that happen. It doesn’t take a lot to motivate me. I’m self-driven. I have a winner’s mentality. I always feel like I’m an underdog.”
Childs felt he wasn’t going to be able to live up to his potential as a player when Akron wanted him to switch from running back to linebacker this spring when the position coach who recruited him was going to be leaving. So, he decided to try to find a team that wanted him to play the position he had come to love ever since his stepfather started him in tackle football as a second grader playing up against third graders.
Although he was an FBS player, Childs wasn’t getting much love from Division I schools right away, leaving him worried. Then Montana came through in April, giving him that desired opportunity to play running back as the Griz needed to develop depth at the position following an injury to All-American Marcus Knight this spring.
As Childs gets a second chance, he promised that no one will work harder than him.
“I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “After leaving Akron and hitting up the portal, it’s put a bigger chip on me. It’s got me excited and really eager to be able to work and not take things for granted.”
Childs has been put through the ringer before as injuries have kept him from playing a full season each of the past three years. He broke his collarbone as a high school junior, broke a foot as a senior and aggravated that foot injury this past fall, forcing him to sit on the sideline as Akron went 1-5.
So, he’s had quite a bit of reflection time and has come to be a proponent of mental health. That’s why he’s studying sports psychology, which he hopes will help set him up for success beyond the playing field as a teacher and football coach.
His high school football coach, Weston Moody, saw his maturity at Wamego High School as Childs regularly volunteered to attend youth camps, mentoring kids on the field and in the weight room. That made it even easier for kids in the small town east of Manhattan, Kansas, to look up to him — the rare area kid who became a three-star prospect.
“We always thought he’d be something special,” Moody said. “Not only is he talented physically, but he’s mentally just a tough, hard-nosed kid. He’s super mature, too. You ask a favor of him, and he’d do anything you ask.”
Childs has come out on top before, overcoming the first injury by working hard in the offseason at camps to receive full-ride scholarships to Akron and Kansas State, the latter a member of the Big 12 Conference. He’ll now have to prove himself again on a Montana team that has big aspirations on the national stage this fall.
Childs brings some physicality at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and feels he can change the momentum of the game with not only a run but also by throwing a block. He takes pride in the mental aspect of the game, too, and learned from recently studying late basketball icon Kobe Bryant that consistency and never being satisfied are keys to finding that success he desires for himself and his family.
“One thing I put into my mindset on the field is that the cost of winning takes a lot,” he said. “Sometimes you’re going to have to be a butt to your teammates, but if you want to win, you have to get everybody on board with everything. And once you start winning, a lot of people are going to hate you for it.”
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.