Listed at 6-5, 358 pounds in the spring, Childress has almost limitless potential as a defensive lineman. But the message from his coaches has been consistent: Lose the weight. Get into the best shape of your career. And the on-the-field results will follow.
"I want to dominate every game," Childress said. "But that will come from listening to Coach Buddy Wyatt (his position coach), and (strength coaches) Terry Jones, Steve Martin and Ben Pollard."
Working mainly in a reserve role, Childress played in 12 of 13 games last season, starting versus LSU and Auburn. A broken wrist suffered in the Auburn game kept him out of the season finale, but the big tackle still finished with 24 tackles and 10 quarterback pressures.
But those sophomore numbers averaged out to only 20 snaps per game, and as a projected starter in 2003 he'll need to virtually double that workload. "I need to lose weight," Childress frankly acknowledged. "At the same time I need to get stronger and quicker. And I need to learn to stay low off the ball."
Childress' position coach, Buddy Wyatt, puts it plainly. "If he loses some weight this summer, that will help Ahmad's endurance. Then fans will see the type player he really is."
Defensive coordinator Joe Kines sees the potential, but he also sees the problem. "Ahmad is no different from many of the players on the squad," Kines said. "He's got to have a great summer. If he conditions well this summer and then comes in here in the fall hitting the ground running, I think he's got a chance to be very good."
Defensive Tackles Coach Buddy Wyatt has high goals for Childress. "If I had to judge I'd say Ahmad was the No. 1 (defensive tackle) coming out of spring ball," Wyatt said. "He has a lot of quickness. He's a strong guy and an athletic guy. Obviously he's big enough.
"He had to work his way into shape early on, but as spring wore on he started getting there. That really helped him. He had to learn a new system, but I thought he played well overall."
Childress has been generally pleased with his off-season progress, but he knows there's work left to do. "I thought spring went very well. Certainly everything went well at A-Day. I played well enough, but I think I should have played better."
Kines agreed, "If you had measured how much progress the players made from the first day of spring practice until the end, I think Ahmad--and really our entire defensive front--made the most improvement. Ahmad really came on and did some good things."
"We kind of spun our wheels the first part of spring practice," Kines continued, "learning a new system, new words, new coaches--everything new. As Ahmad caught on he improved. He started to play with a good temperament."
Like every football player Childress wants to be a star. And for defensive linemen that equates to blowing by blockers to hopefully sack the quarterback. But his coaches are preaching "patience." "Coach Wyatt talks to me every day," Childress explained. "I go to his office and talk to him, and he tells me how I can improve. My biggest problem is I try to hit a homerun on every play. But Coach Wyatt tells me to just hit a line drive. If you keep doing that, the homeruns will come to you."
Hired by Alabama last January, Wyatt came to the Tide from Texas A&M. But from watching film of 2002 he sees Childress' improvement. "Ahmad has gotten stronger from last year," Wyatt pointed out. "That's the first thing. One year under his belt in the Southeastern Conference has given him the experience. Now he should be stepping up and becoming a dominant player in the conference."
"Coach (Wyatt) tells me to just go out there and have fun," Childress said. "‘Use your moves.' I try to go out there and execute. People think D-Tackles are always slow, but I've got some quickness and speed in me. We may be big guys, but we've got some speed."
Childress and his running mate, Anthony Bryant, are as big and strong as any D-Tackle pair in the conference. But depth at the position is a concern. Sophomore Taylor Britt and redshirt freshmen Jeremy Clark, Kyle Tatum and J.P. Adams all show promise, but none have played a down of SEC football.
"I think we'll be fine," Childress said. "The players behind Anthony and me are young, but they're good athletes. Their only drawback is they're young, but they finished (spring) playing good ball. I think our depth is good. They can come in and play if me or Anthony got hurt."
It won't be easy, but Wyatt believes that athletically his players are equal to the task. "I'm hoping that with both those guys playing inside we can pretty much control the line of scrimmage," Wyatt said. "At the snap you want to reestablish the line of scrimmage. Ahmad and Anthony are both big and strong enough that we can do that. Now we've got to learn to be consistent with our technique.
"They're getting better. Every week (during spring) they got better. That's all we can ask of them."