Darrington Sentimore after practice
Darrington Sentimore has played just enough SEC football to know he wants to play some more. So, as soon as he left the conference, he began working on his return.
"I had to get back into the SEC," Tennessee's defensive end said after Tuesday's practice.
He came to the right place. Not only do the Vols need help on the defensive front, they can offer as much familiarity as anybody else for the former Alabama defensive end.
Sal Sunseri, UT's new defensive coordinator, was the associate head coach and linebackers coach at Alabama when Sentimore was there. Moreover, he brings the same 3-4 defensive alignment that Sentimore learned with the Tide.
"It's very much the same stuff," Sentimore said. "Coach Sal is a lot harder than he was at Alabama, though."
That's no surprise. Alabama has won two national championships in the last three seasons. UT just went 1-7 in the SEC.
Much of Alabama's success was founded in a deep, talented defense on which Sentimore played as a backup in 2010. He left the program after he was indefinitely suspended following the spring of 2011. Then, at the recommendation of Alabama coach Nick Saban, he continued his football career at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
While Sentimore appreciates the transition provided by junior college
football, he wasn't enamored with it.
"In juco, we didn't really run a lot," he said. "In the SEC, they run you all day.
"I wasn't eating right. I wasn't lifting right. I wasn't disciplined over there."
Based on his weight gain, Sentimore is apparently eating better. He said he's up to 300 pounds, which is a lot of meals from his listed weight of 273 at Alabama and the 265 pounds he carried in junior college.
Stamina is more of a factor than speed, according to Sentimore.
"I was far away (from being in shape) when I came here," he said. "I had to work hard. I still hadn't reached that level, but I'm getting there.
"I'm at the weight I want to be. I'm still fast, though. I run like a 4.8 (in the 40)."
At that size, he blends in well with UT's front three of Marlon Walls, who has added more weight from the 281 pounds at which he played last season, and nose tackle Maurice Couch. Sentimore has something else in common with those guys. All of them have moved around.
Walls originally signed with the Vols out of high school in 2008 but played the following season at Hargrave Military Academy before enrolling at UT a year later. Couch arrived at UT via Garden City Community College after playing high school football in Orlando, Fla.
Although Walls and Couch know more about UT football, Sentimore has the advantage of learning the 3-4 at Alabama.
"It helps me a lot knowing what to do out there," he said. "I can help (his teammates) help themselves.
"I just want to win and compete. I competed when I was over there (at Alabama). I will compete over here."
And he's already thought about when he lines up against his former team.
"I'm gonna compete even harder when we play Alabama," he said with a smile.