LB Darrin Kirkland Jr. leaving Vols as graduate transfer

Darrin Kirkland Jr., a former All-SEC Freshman team selection at linebacker who was plagued by injuries for much of his time at Tennessee, announced on Thursday that he plans to leave the program as a graduate transfer.

Kirkland had 16 total starts and 111 tackles before missing all of last season recovering from knee surgery. He was unable to participate fully in spring practice under first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt.

"For the last 3 years The University of Tennessee has been my home," Kirkland tweeted. "After much prayer, thought, and consideration about what my future holds, I have decided to use my last 2 years of eligibility as a graduate transfer to another university to pursue my graduate degree while playing football. Tennessee will always hold a special place in my heart. These moments have been priceless and I'm a better player and man from this experience."

With Kirkland leaving the program, an already-thin Tennessee defense will likely turn to Daniel Bituli and Quart'e Sapp at inside linebacker.

The Vols open the season against West Virginia on Sept. 1 in Charlotte, North Carolina.