Back home in Texas, Charbonnet emerges as top Tech defender

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The ivy-covered turrets and pristine campus at Duke were an early attraction for Daniel Charbonnet. And so was the chance to immediately play for the Blue Devils.

But Charbonnet missed his friends and family back home in Texas. He never really felt comfortable despite an early shot at playing time as a freshman cornerback for the downtrodden program.

Four seasons later, Charbonnet has emerged as one of the key defensive players for Texas Tech. He's battled long odds, from starting over as a walk-on with the Red Raiders to becoming one of the prime playmakers in a rapidly improving secondary.

"It seemed like a good opportunity at the time, but I never really enjoyed playing there," Charbonnet said about his short-lived career in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "But I wanted to come back to Texas and I was homesick. I came out here and I just loved it."

His association with former Texas Tech wide receiver Danny Amendola, an old friend from high school in the Houston suburb of the Woodlands, convinced him to transfer.

"I just saw all of the stuff they were doing and it looked like a good fit for me," Charbonnet said. "The coaches liked me and I liked them. It just seemed like a good place to play."

His family has a strong football tradition. His late maternal grandfather, Levin "Chuck" Johns was a standout halfback at LSU in the 1950s. And his younger brother, Taylor, has joined him in the Tech program where he's become a key special-teams player.

After sitting out the 2005 season as a transfer and starting as a scout teamer and then a special teams player, Charbonnet finally cracked the Red Raiders' playing rotation last season. And despite his 5-foot-11, 203-pound frame, he's becoming one of the top big play producers in the Big 12 conference after moving to strong safety.

Coming out of spring practice, he beat out Anthony Hines for the starting position. And he hasn't looked back as he's become a key contributor because of his uncanny playing instincts and his hustle.

"Daniel is a good player," Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. "He does a lot with things that just can't be coached. There are a few players that always seem to have that knack about being around the ball and he's one of them."

Earlier in the season, he set the school record with three interceptions in a game against SMU.

His biggest game could have come last week against Texas, when he produced an 18-yard interception return for a touchdown that helped provide the only second-half touchdown for the Red Raiders before their dramatic late touchdown pass from Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree.

Charbonnet punctuated the victory by causing and recovering a fumble on the kickoff, the final play of the game, which wrapped up the win. It enabled him to earn his second Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week award of the season.

"You dream about something like that," said Charbonnet, who shares the conference lead in interceptions (five) with teammate Darcel McBath. "It just happened and I was very thankful for the opportunity. We've always felt like we could play with anybody and beat anybody. And that game proved that."

But Charbonnet said the Red Raiders are cognizant that they can't celebrate the first victory over a No. 1 ranked opponent in school history for too long. Especially with the challenges that Oklahoma State's multi-faceted offense will provide this week. It's another test with a top-10 opponent.

"I'm happy about the Texas game and having the impact I did on it, but all of that won't matter unless we take care of business this week and the rest of the season," Charbonnet said. "And that's how we all are approaching it. We still have a lot more to do."