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Darrin Kirkland has change of heart, will stay at Tennessee

Tennessee linebacker Darrin Kirkland (34) combined for 111 tackles in his first two seasons. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Darrin Kirkland Jr. won’t be leaving Tennessee, after all.

Kirkland, a talented linebacker, announced last week that he would pursue a graduate transfer. However, after a few days to think about it and talk things over with Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt, Kirkland has had a chance of heart. Multiple outlets reported the news on Monday, and Pruitt confirmed to ESPN’s Chris Low that Kirkland will stay in Knoxville.

Kirkland has been very productive when he’s been on the field for the Vols, but injuries have been a constant throughout his college career. He missed the entire 2017 season with a knee injury and, after an additional procedure on the knee, did not participate in the team’s first spring practice sessions under Pruitt, who is in his first year as UT head coach.

Pruitt told Low that Kirkland’s injuries have been weighing on him:

Pruitt told ESPN that he met with Kirkland and his parents over the weekend, and they decided it was best for Kirkland to stay at Tennessee, where he’s expected to be a key cog in the Vols’ defense if he can stay healthy.

“The injuries have been hard on him, but he wants to be here, and he want him here,” Pruitt told ESPN. “He can definitely help us.”

If healthy, Kirkland will likely be Tennessee’s starting middle linebacker. He started a total of 16 games in the middle in 2015 and 2016, combining for 111 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. In 2015, Kirkland was a Freshman All-SEC selection.

Because of his lost 2017 season, Kirkland still has two years of eligibility left.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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