KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee woke up on Wednesday morning to two lumps of coal in its recruiting stocking.
The Volunteers had to wait a little longer to find the big gift.
UT was hoping for faxes from four targets on the first day of the signing period for junior college players who planned on enrolling in January, but the Vols ended up with just one after two committed players switched their decisions and signed elsewhere.
The Vols did land former Alabama defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore, who played this season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College after two seasons with the Crimson Tide. As a redshirt freshman, Sentimore, who's listed at 6-foot-2 and 273 pounds, appeared in 11 games, made 11 tackles and forced one fumble for Alabama. He had 39 tackles and seven sacks this season.
Multiple attempts to reach Sentimore on Wednesday afternoon were unsuccessful. He was a four-star recruit out of Destrahan, La., when he signed with Alabama in 2009, and he heads to UT rated as a three-star prospect by Rivals.com and a four-star player by 247sports.com. Sentimore has two years of eligibility remaining.
With the departure of All-Southeastern Conference selection Malik Jackson, the Vols had a need in the middle of their defensive line. Sentimore's early arrival and short time away from big-time college football should help him adjust quickly. The three junior-college players UT signed last year -- defensive tackle Maurice Couch and defensive backs Izauea Lanier and Byron Moore -- needed a couple of months before finding a groove.
"The first thing you do when you get here is that you've got to learn what to do, aside from the physical part of it, how much faster it is [and] how much better shape you've got to be in to play at this level," UT defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said last month. "I think initially, a lot of guys sometimes it kind of slaps them in the face. Some guys adjust a little quicker than others."
The Vols hope Sentimore adjusts quickly, especially after missing on a pair of defensive lineman late in the recruiting process. East Mississippi Community College teammates Damien Jacobs and Denico Autry appeared to favor UT, but neither ended up signing with the Vols.
The 6-5, 255-pound Autry, a four-star defensive end, surprisingly committed to Mississippi State last week and signed with the Bulldogs on Wednesday. He had offers from most of the SEC, Florida State, Oklahoma, Texas and Oregon, among others.
"I just see myself fitting in well there with their players," the North Carolina native told 247sports.com last week. "I've always been a country boy, and I will fit in there. I am just ready to get there in the spring and show them why I am here and what I am all about."
Losing Jacobs might have a tougher blow for UT. The 6-4, 300-pounder committed to the Vols on July 28, but after taking official visits to Texas A&M, Florida, Mississippi State and Texas Tech, Jacobs inked with Florida on Wednesday. The Louisiana native originally signed with Florida State in 2010.
"I chose Florida because I feel like that's the best place for me to get early playing time in the SEC," Jacobs told ESPN. "We're going to have a great team and win a lot of games."
Defensive back Otis Jacobs, Sentimore's teammate this season, started UT's day by flipping back to Texas A&M. After originally picking the Aggies in the spring, the four-star cornerback took an official visit to UT last week in the wake of Mike Sherman's firing at Texas A&M. He went public with a verbal commitment on Friday, but new coach Kevin Sumlin was able to sway Jacobs' decision.
The Vols are still pursuing two big junior-college targets: wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and mammoth defensive tackle Daniel McCullers. Both players took official visits to UT in November and will sign on national signing day in February.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...