January 11, 2012

O'Brien already a leader for Vols

A losing season and several staff changes have made things rough on Rocky Top, but through everything that has happened with Tennessee football in the past few months, there has been one constant. Flint, Mich., defensive tackle Danny O'Brien has been as solid as the rock that sits on Volunteer Boulevard in the heart of campus.

"That's the way I always felt," O'Brien said. "I felt like I belonged and that's why I committed to Tennessee. I know coaches leave and that's why I'm staying. I picked Tennessee for Tennessee. That's what I'm trying to get the other guys to understand. That's why I think this weekend is important."

"I picked Tennessee for Tennessee. That's what I'm trying to get the other guys to understand." - Danny O'Brien

When defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon left for Washington, O'Brien was unfazed. He took it upon himself to call several prospects and commitments.

"A lot of the guys are confused because they are getting calls from other schools saying the opposite of what they are being told by Tennessee," O'Brien said. "I've told them they picked Tennessee for a reason and I think they will realize why they picked Tennessee. It's crazy how much people can get in your life through Facebook and Twitter. You have to stay in your head and stay focused on who you are and what you want to do."

O'Brien plans on rooming with linebacker Dalton Santos. The two have become really good friends and future hunting buddies. O'Brien has really been good for Santos the last few weeks.

"He's been pretty important," Santos said. "Knowing he's going to be there beside me next year to help me and me help him. At one time I think I was recruiting him and now I feel like he's recruiting me. He's been keeping us all in close contact. He's a good friend and it helps with everything."

It's not just been Santos; O'Brien has called Otha Peters, Korren Kirven and others.

"It was really cool for him to call me," Peters said. "It shows a lot of leadership. He shows me that I've got someone I can lean on and trust for the next four years."

Things changed for Kirven when Sirmon and Wilcox left the Vols program. Tennessee's efforts, as well as O'Brien's continued contact with Kirven, seems to be paying some dividends. Kirven is expected to visit UT this weekend.

"I really want Korren to come down," O'Brien said. "That's a guy that I want beside me. I try not to blow up his phone too much, but I tell him to keep looking at Tennessee. I hope he makes it down for a visit."

O'Brien feels he has been a leader his entire life and he's always made sure to set the example for others. He amped up his assertiveness after a junior season that fell short of expectations.

"I've always wanted to be a leader," O'Brien said. "I think I learned a lot this year in my senior year. My junior year, we went 1-8 and I made the move to try and change things. I think you have to go further and I don't want to be a self-proclaimed leader. I want other people to say that. I think I've learned a lot of leadership skills from my brother."

That leadership led to a storybook state championship this past fall. He credits a strong family core for his solid lifestyle and values.

"My whole family have become the player and person I am," O'Brien said. "We are a Catholic family and we are a close-knit unit. My mom has taught me so much and my dad and my brother have really toughened me up."

In just one season, Sirmon made a big impression on the Tennessee recruiting class and O'Brien will always appreciate what Sirmon taught him.

"I will always remember coach Sirmon," O'Brien said. "I can see him being a head coach at a major program down the road. He was a really good friend. He'll always be a contact for me to call. He's told me that he's behind me and he hopes I do well at Tennessee. I told him the last time I talked to him that I hoped he would hire me as his defensive line coach someday."

This weekend will go a long way to solidifying Tennessee's 2012 signing class. O'Brien knows that and he'll be doing his best to show that Tennessee is starting the climb back to relevance in the rough and rugged SEC.

"My goal this weekend isn't to recruit," O'Brien said. "It's never too early to start that chemistry. I want to use this weekend as a way to keep this class together. Any of the guys that are thinking, then I want to remind them that Tennessee is the place for them. It's going to be fun."

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