Where did he come from?
Darrin Kirkland, Jr. committed to Tennessee from Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, Indiana.
How did he end up at Tennessee?
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling and linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen have been pursuing Kirkland for more than a year, probably as the staff began to contemplate life without standout middle linebacker A.J. Johnson. Kirkland received an initial offer in January, attended Junior Day in February, and returned to Knoxville on an unofficial visit in March. A coveted prospect, Kirkland took his time evaluating his options, unofficially visiting Tennessee, Ole Miss, North Carolina, Kentucky (?), Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Michigan, before finally committing to the Wolverines in May. The Vols finished as runner-up to the Wolverines, but quickly moved on to other options, with standout Florida linebacker Cecil Cherry committing to Tennessee in June.
Kirkland reappeared on the Tennessee recruiting radar in November amidst the flaming wreckage of Michigan's disastrous season. With Brady Hoke's job security in jeopardy, Kirkland decommitted from Michigan and contacted the Vols' coaching staff. Here's where things get interesting: either (1) Tennessee coaches decided they liked Kirkland more than Cherry and told Cherry to start looking around; or, (2) Cherry decided of his own volition to start taking visits to other schools and Tennessee coaches started talking to Kirkland as an insurance policy. In any case, once Kirkland reopened his recruitment, Stripling and Thigpen pursued him relentlessly, and despite a late push from Texas (sorry not sorry, Burnt Orange Nation), the result was never in doubt.
ITS GREAT. TO BE. A TENNESSEE VOLUNTEER! #865 Stand Up! pic.twitter.com/ilTwjG5NkT— Darrin Kirkland Jr. (@_KIRKjunior) December 15, 2014
Kirkland is a consensus four star player, the second ranked player in the state of Indiana, and in the top 200 overall recruits nationwide (as ranked by the Composite and every individual service). He is the fourth ranked inside linebacker by the 247 Composite, ahead of recent Tennessee decommitment Cecil Cherry (eleventh). He holds scholarship offers from 30 schools, including Florida, Michigan, Ole Miss, Oregon, Penn State, and Texas.
How will he fit into the Tennessee defense?
At 6'2, 235, Kirkland is an imposing defender with the size and strength to stop the interior run game, and more importantly, the speed and quickness to make plays in underneath coverage. On film, Kirkland looks leaner and less imposing than expected given his listed size, but he has a long frame with the ability to add good strength in a college weight program. While less of a straight-line hitter than a linebacker like Cherry, Kirkland has truly elite quickness and change of direction, and is virtually unblockable at the high school level. He plays with good discipline and uses his hands to shed blockers and knife through traffic. If he continues to progress, Kirkland will provide tremendous speed and sure tackling in the middle of the Tennessee defense.
As a senior, Kirkland led the Lawrence Central defense with 105 tackles, 8 tackles-for-loss, while corralling three interceptions, forcing a fumble, and making a sack.