Lawrence Central linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. announced a college commitment for Tennessee on Monday afternoon, choosing the Volunteers over Ole Miss, Oklahoma and Texas.
The 6-2, 235-pound Kirkland Jr., rated as the No. 4 inside linebacker in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings, will enroll at Tennessee in January. He was originally committed to Michigan.
“I knew what I was looking for when I opened things up,” Kirkland Jr. said. “Basically, it was a home. A place where I loved to come to work every day. When I opened things up, I had a plan. When you are going through the process the first time, you don’t really know what you’re looking for until someone tells you. The second time, I knew. And I’m glad I found Tennessee as a home.”
Tennessee coach Butch Jones appears to be making significant headway in recruiting, with Kirkland Jr.’s commitment adding to the evidence. Tennessee now has 12 commitments ranked as four-star recruits or better and its class as a whole is ranked No. 5 in the country by 247Sports.
Kirkland Jr. said he expects — and the Tennessee coaching staff expects him — to compete for playing time immediately.
“I’m excited with what coach Jones has done and everything that they are doing defensively,” said Kirkland Jr., who will compete in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 3 in San Antonio. “After my visit (an official visit in late November), I didn’t want to leave. I felt like it was the right play for me after that. I had to calm down and come down for the so-called ‘visit high.’ I was excited about everything that weekend, but I really felt like it was the place for me.”
Steve Wiltfong, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports, said Kirkland Jr. was not only one of the most talented players in Indiana but one of the most improved from junior to senior year.
“He’s a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who plays with great quickness and speed,” Wiltfong said. “He’s a smart guy who I think will be in the middle of a lot of plays in Knoxville.”
Lawrence Central coach Jed Richman said Kirkland Jr.’s preparation helps him stand out.
“He’s a cerebral kid, too,” Richman said. “He’s high character and the whole nine yards. I’m excited for him. Especially after things happened at Michigan, I think he re-evaluated. I was very impressed how grounded he was in the process. It’s a unique experience. He had close to 40 offers and coast-to-coast attention. He’s a great representative for his school and community.”
Kirkland Jr. is the second high-profile local commitment in two days. Isaac James, a do-it-all standout for Carmel, committed to Indiana on Sunday. Mykelti Williams, runner-up for IndyStar Mr. Football, took an official visit to Minnesota over the weekend but remains uncommitted.