KNOXVILLE – There’s a peculiar car regularly parked outside Tennessee football’s practice facility.
At first glance it looks like a normal sedan. However, there are two tags hanging on the rearview mirror. One is a standard parking pass for UT students. The other is a parking pass reading: “No. 94 – Alabama football.”
Defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore is parked in a new home and few Tennessee newcomers can boast previous SEC experience like he can. Nobody on the Vols’ roster can say he’s played for defensive coordinator Sal Suneri previously except for him.
“I was very excited,” Sentimore said when asked his reaction to Sunseri’s hiring. “I had liked Coach Sal at Alabama. He taught me a lot of things.”
Sentimore is participating in his first spring practice with the Vols after spending last season at Gulf Coast (Miss.) Community College and the previous two seasons at Alabama.
The versatile defensive lineman appeared in 11 games for the Crimson Tide’s 2010 national championship run. He notched nine tackles, one forced fumble and four quarterback hurries. Despite the previous experience in the SEC, it isn’t a simple transition back from junior college.
“I’ve had to get in shape,” Sentimore said. “In Juco you don’t really run a lot. Over here in the SEC they’ll run you all day. In Juco, you don’t really get a lot of preparation to do things like lift weights and eat right.”
Head coach Derek Dooley echoed Sentimore’s thoughts on the challenge of getting in shape: “He’s still working on his consistency like most of the guys on defense. Stamina is going to be an issue for him. Like most d-lineman, big, heavy guys going a lot of snaps get tired.”
Sentimore has added about 35 pounds to his frame since the 2011 season. The Norco, La., native is up to 300 pounds after playing at 265 pounds at Gulf Coast.
Despite the added mass, Sentimore claims he can still run a 4.8-second 40-yard dash thanks to a more disciplined approach he’s taken since returning to the SEC.
“I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t lifting right, I wasn’t disciplined there and I come here and they teach me a lot better,” he said. “I didn’t have the coaching I have over here.”
In addition to SEC experience and size, Sentimore also brings knowledge of the 3-4 scheme after learning it in 2010 with the Crimson Tide.
“I think that experience helps me a lot. They already have me running with the ones,” Sentimore said. “Me knowing what to do all day, I can help the other guys help themselves. I know a lot of guys are going to be able to make plays in the 3-4. (Sunseri) disciplines his guys well and I knew we would win a championship with him as our defensive coordinator.”
After dueling on Sentimore’s rearview mirror this spring, the Vols and Crimson Tide will hit field in the fall. Several ex-teammates will duel with Sentimore on the traditional third Saturday in October.
“I just want to win,” Sentimore said. “I competed when I was over there and I’m going to compete over here. I’m going to play hard everyday I get on the field. I’m going to compete even harder when I play Alabama.”