Darrin Kirkland Jr made an immediate impact as a true freshman for the Tennessee Volunteers. He was outstanding, making 10 starts in 13 games at middle linebacker for the Vols. Kirkland Jr, from Lawrence High School in Indianapolis, was ranked by 247sports as the No. 4 inside linebacker and the No. 2 prospect in the state of Indiana.
He was highly decorated in high school, as a senior he racked up 121 tackles, and three interceptions. With his 367 career tackles as a high school linebacker, he was named all-state in Indiana in 2013 and 2014. Kirkland got invited to The Opening in 2014, and participated in the U.S. Army All American game as a senior in 2015.
As a freshman at Tennessee, he developed into a dominant SEC player. His 66 tackles was good for fourth on the team and ranked second among SEC freshmen. It was also good enough for fourth all time by a true freshman at Tennessee.
Kirkland Jr. continued to pile the stat sheet throughout the year. His only interception of the year came against Kentucky when he jumped a screen pass at the Wildcat 30 yard line and returned it to the four yard line to set up a 1st and goal, which a play later resulted in a four yard touchdown run by Jalen Hurd. He also recovered a fumble against Missouri that gave the ball back to the Vols after Mizzou crossed the 50 yard line in the second quarter. Kirkland Jr had a great first career bowl game performance where he recorded six tackles and a sack in the win over Northwestern.
It seems like Darrin Kirkland Jr. is always somewhere around the ball. After Curt Maggitt’s injury that ended his season and career at Tennessee, Kirkland Jr. stepped up and did not miss a beat. With Jalen Reeves-Maybin the only proven veteran at linebacker, Kirkland Jr’s production was essential for the Vols. Now a sophomore, Kirkland Jr will be and experienced leader on the Tennessee defense.
If his second year is anything like the first, the Vols will be solid at the linebacker spot. Darrin Kirkland Jr. comes in at #12 on the top 15 most important players for the Vols in 2016.