The Vols have already had one player rejoin the team after it looked like he was gone since Jeremy Pruitt took over as head football coach. Now it appears as though they’ll have another player rejoin the team after it looked like he was leaving.
Linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. announced on Twitter last Thursday night that he planned to transfer out of Tennessee’s football program after spending three injury-riddled years with the Vols. But now it appears as though he’ll be staying with the team after all.
John Brice of Gridiron Now first reported the news that Kirkland and his family met with Pruitt, and now the rising senior linebacker will be remaining with Tennessee. Long-time Knoxville reporter Jimmy Hyams later confirmed the report. Kirkland has also deleted his tweet stating he intended to transfer.
Would expect formal announcement this week @SEC meetings in Destin, but was told late last night Darrin Kirkland Jr., with his family, met w/ Pruitt & is likely to remain @ UT
— John Brice (@JohnDBrice1) May 28, 2018
Looks like Tennessee LB Darrin Kirkland jr. might have changed mind and appears as though he will stay at UT.
— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) May 28, 2018
Kirkland was a Freshman All-SEC player in 2015, playing in all 13 games for Tennessee and starting 10 of them while tallying 66 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, an interception, two passes defended, and a forced fumble.
But so far, that’s been the only healthy year Kirkland has had at Tennessee.
The promising linebacker suffered a high ankle sprain early in the Vols’ 2016 season and missed five games total, only appearing in eight games and starting six that year. Then he suffered an injury in fall practice prior to last season and ended up missing the entire year.
Since putting together a solid freshman campaign, Kirkland has only played eight of a possible 25 games the last two seasons.
Coming out of high school, Kirkland was a high four-star prospect and was rated as the No. 4 inside linebacker in the 2015 class per 247Sports. He played in the US Army All-American Game in 2015 and came into Tennessee with high hopes and plenty of hype. He delivered on that as a freshman, but injuries hampered him since. But now it appears as though he’ll be back with Tennessee this fall after all.
If Kirkland does, in fact, come back to Tennessee’s roster, he’ll be the second Vol to rejoin the team under Pruitt. Jauan Jennings had different circumstances surrounding his situation, but he also came back to the Vols after looking like he would be going elsewhere.
Jennings was dismissed from the team before the Vols’ final game of the 2017 season against Vanderbilt after he posted a profanity-laced tirade speaking out against Tennessee’s coaches. Interim head coach Brady Hoke in tandem with then-AD John Currie made the decision to dismiss Jennings.
But once Phillip Fulmer took over as AD and hired Pruitt, things began moving in the right direction for Jennings. And once he met the criteria set forth by Pruitt, he was eventually reinstated to the team.
Kirkland projects to be a starter at one of Tennessee’s inside linebacker positions this fall if he can stay healthy. The three-year player has totaled 111 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, an interception, two passes defended, and a forced fumble in his 21 career appearances.
UPDATE: Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has now confirmed that Kirkland will be staying with the Vols rather than transferring.
Per a report from ESPN, Pruitt confirmed that Kirkland’s initial plans to transfer out of the program have been canceled. As Brice first reported, Pruitt met with Kirkland and his family and they all came to the conclusion it was best for Kirkland to stay at Tennessee for the upcoming 2018 season.