Football Looks to Darwin Brown as a Defensive Leader
Cornerback on verge of greatness.
Sept. 1, 1998
By Greg Hulen
Secondary coach Dean Campbell still remembers the first time Darwin Brown stepped foot on the field for Texas Tech during a game. "It was late in the first quarter of the 1995 season opener against Penn State in front of over 90,000 fans," Campbell said. "They had thrown deep twice against Verone McKinley, and I wanted to get him a break. I looked at Darwin and told him to get in the game. He looked at me, with his eyes as big saucers, and said, 'Coach, are you sure?" " Oh, how the times have changed.
No longer a nervous freshman, last season Brown emerged as one of the top defensive backs in the Big 12. With two interceptions, a conference-best 13 pass breakups and an undeniable sense of confidence, he established himself as a leader on the Tech defense and forced opposing quarterbacks to think twice before throwing to his side of the field. Now, Brown stands at the threshold of becoming a household name in the Big 12 and a Red Raider all-time great.
"He truly wants to be good," Campbell said. "Darwin takes a lot of pride in his work and that is what is necessary to be a great football player. That is very important especially in our defensive scheme where the cornerbacks are isolated one-on-one against the receivers. He is all alone out there."
However, the road to recognition and success has been paved at times with injuries and disappointment. After signing with Tech in 1995 out of Tyler John Tyler High School, Brown injured his knee in the Shrine California-Texas Classic. The injury caused him to miss the first week and a half of two-a-days and put him behind on the depth chart. Yet, Brown worked hard and got the chance to play in the game against Penn State. Despite getting off to a late start, he was already on the fast track to making an immediate impact as a freshman.
Unfortunately, the injury bug would strike again. Brown would sustain a season-ending knee injury against Arkansas State that would require arthroscopic knee surgery. Not only would he miss the remainder of the football season, but he would be forced to miss spring practice in recovery.
When he returned for the 1996 season, Brown hadn't played full-contact football in months. However, his raw athletic ability allowed him to quickly catch up and become a contributing member of the team. He spent the year as a No. 2 cornerback behind Corey Turner and Tony Darden.
In his first full season, Brown played in every Texas Tech game, despite being hampered with a reoccurring bad hamstring. He recorded his first career interception versus Utah State and finished the season with 14 tackles, includin g 10 unassisted. He also had a career-high four tackles against Oklahoma.
Last season, Brown started every game for the Red Raiders at cornerback. Healthy for an entire season for the first time in his career, Brown showed he had a knack for starring in the spotlight.
Against Tennessee, he intercepted Peyton Manning and returned the pick 33 yards and finished the game with four tackles. He also had an interception against Kansas State and had career bests in tackles (5) and pass break ups (4) against Texas.
But, the success was somewhat bittersweet. Brown applied for a medical redshirt for his injury-plagued freshman year hoping for an extra year of eligibility. But, after reviewing the situation, the NCAA determined that Brown had played too many games to be eligible for the redshirt. Thus, 1998 will be his last year as a Red Raider, a fact which has inspired Brown to make this his best year ever.
"I was disappointed when I heard the decision," said Brown. "But, it has been a great motivator. I know if I want to play in the NFL, I need to have a great year. I'm working hard every day preparing for the season. I haven't missed a workout this summer, and I've been working on developing my knowledge of the game by watching a lot of film."
Perhaps that is the biggest difference in Brown from when he first stepped foot on the Texas Tech campus to today. Now, as he wants to take his game to the next level, he realizes that it takes more than physical ability to be a successful defensive back. It takes the knowledge of other teams and their receivers, which comes from watching films.
"Coach Campbell and the older players showed me the importance of watching the film," Brown said. "Before, I relied on my speed and strength to beat my opponents. Now, after studying each week's opponent, I am able to anticipate the routes of the receiver by the offensive set they line up in. By knowing where he is going on his route, I am able to step up and make a play."
Brown's strides in the weight room and watching film haven"t escaped the approving eyes of the coaches. "Darwin has worked real hard this summer with the weights and conditioning, and I believe it will pay big dividends this season," Campbell said. "He has developed into a real student of the game. He is always the first player to be watching Saturday's film and the first to want the next opponent's films."
For his career, Brown has 32 tackles, 16 pass break ups and three interceptions. In Tech's defensive scheme, Brown plays almost exclusively man-to-man coverage, quite a task against some of the athletic receivers in the Big 12.
"Darwin is the old man of our secondary," Defensive Coordinator John Goodner said. "He has a lot of experience, good size for a cornerback and he is really underrated. I would rate him as one of the better man-to-man cover guys in the Big 12."
The Tyler senior is now living up to the expectations he generated in high school. He was a Fab 44 selection by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and a top 100 selection by the Houston Post, Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.
As a senior, he notched a team-high 115 tackles, logged two interceptions and blocked four kicks. He helped Tyler claim the 5A Division II Texas state championship, a perfect 16-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking.
In 1998, Brown will be counted on for more than just results on the field. He will be called on to be a leader. Brown will be one of four starting seniors on the defense and the only one in the secondary.
"I really enjoy talking to the younger players and supplying guidance to them," Brown said. "When I was younger, players like Shawn Hurd and Verone McKinley taught me a lot. They helped me in developing my game with things like reading routes, bumping and running and using my hands. That is the difference with Tech. We are a family. We work together to build chemistry and help one another out. There are no egos out there; no one talking each other down."
Mirroring his high accomplishments on the playing field, Brown has achieved in the classroom. He is on track to graduate in May with his degree in exercise and sport sciences in four years.
"Darwin's success on the playing field and in the classroom is a result of the supportive environment he grew up in," Campbell said. "He comes from a great family and it shows in the way he conducts himself. He is a first-class young man."
All that is left now is for the season to get underway on September 5. "I want to be the defensive back I know I can be this season; one of the best cover men in the nation," Brown said.