KNOXVILLE -- Highly regarded punter Matt Darr signed scholarship papers with the University of Tennessee on Wednesday and is eligible to play immediately for the Volunteers.
First-year UT coach Derek Dooley confirmed the news through a statement Wednesday afternoon. The coach dropped a hint one hour earlier via Twitter, saying "good news" was on the way.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Darr was ranked the nation's top Class of 2010 punter by Scout.com, and Rivals.com ranked him fourth.
Darr committed to Southern California last summer but ultimately signed with Fresno State after Coach Pete Carroll left the Trojans. Ironically, former UT coach Lane Kiffin then replaced Carroll at USC and hired special teams coach John Baxter from Fresno State after Darr signed with the Bulldogs.
The punter said he felt "betrayed" by Baxter's departure and asked Fresno State for a release. The Bulldogs complied, and Darr signed with the Vols.
Darr and All-America high school kicker Michael Palardy from Florida will give UT arguably the nation's best incoming special teams duo. That could comfort Vols' fans who watched punter Chad Cunningham and kicker Daniel Lincoln struggle for much of the past two seasons.
"Every coach at every school in the country says he wants to be good on special teams," Dooley told the Times Free Press in the spring. "It's one thing to say that. It's another thing to actually put in the work and do it."
Punter Matt Darr will enroll and be eligible this fall, but the Vols have spent most of this summer working on their 2011 signing class. Here are their public, non-binding pledges.
LB Christian Harris 6-2, 230, 3 stars Woodstock, Ga. (Etowah High)
OL Alan Posey 6-6, 305, 3 stars Athens, Ga. (Clarke Central High)
TE Andrew Power 6-5, 262, unranked Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Arizona Western CC)
DB Brian Randolph 6-0, 180, 3 stars Marietta, Ga. (Kell High)
RB Tom Smith 5-10, 205, 3 stars Apopka, Fla. (Apopka High)
Darr didn't just punt for Bakersfield Frontier (Calif.) High School -- but he excelled there, averaging 43 yards per punt in his career, and 46.3 yards as a junior. He also collected 96 tackles as a linebacker and won state championships in the shot put and discus, leading the Titans to a team title. He was a finalist for MaxPreps' national athlete of the year award.
The Vols open preseason camp Aug. 4, but Darr's presence still won't leave them close to the NCAA's maximum of 85 scholarships. They'll be closer to the mid 70s, excluding any one-year scholarships given to former walk-ons. Nearly all of the incoming class is expected to qualify academically -- with no more than two exceptions -- and the Vols will again try to add early high school or junior college graduates in January and back-count some toward the 2010 class.
"Are we where we want to be (in recruiting)? Of course not," Dooley said last month. "But I think given the events that have happened over the last three years, we'd be a little bit foolish to think we'd be ahead of where we are right now. I do think we'll make up a lot of ground up until the season, and even during the season. But at the end of the day, it only matters who signs. When I got the job in January, everybody said this is going to be a catastrophe of a recruiting season. But we got after it and got together a pretty solid class. I don't ever panic in recruiting. If we lose guys that we wanted, you move on. You can't worry about what you don't have.
"Some guys are saying this, and some guys are saying that. It only matters what they end up doing, not what they say in March or April."
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