O'Brien: 'I picked Tennessee for Tennessee'

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Assistant coaching changes, a losing record in 2011, negativity outside the state's borders — none of it had any effect on Danny O'Brien.

The four-star verbally committed to play football at the University of Tennessee back on Oct. 6 and is one of several who hasn't wavered in the least.

"I picked Tennessee for Tennessee in the first place. I love the school," O'Brien told InsideTennessee.

Being 538 miles from his future home doesn't do an 18-year-old many favors when he pulls the orange and white out of the closet surrounded by Michigan and Michigan State fans.

"I just block out everybody," O'Brien said. "I don't really think about that. It's my decision."

The defensive lineman has high aspirations for he and his Volunteer teammates for this fall.

"My goal is I want to win an SEC championship. I think we can (accomplish that in 2012)," said O'Brien, who tripped south from his Fenton, Mich., home to Knoxville six times over the last several months.

Coaches from Tennessee have returned the favor, including head coach Derek Dooley visiting back in December.

"We're on the same page," O'Brien said. "I get exactly what he's selling, and I believe in what he's selling. I love coach Dooley."

The Vols saw defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (Washington), linebackers coach Peter Sirmon (Washington) and defensive line coach Lance Thompson (Alabama) all depart after season's end. That didn't sit well with O'Brien.

"I was kind of pissed for awhile, but I settled down and realized that I picked Tennessee for Tennessee," he said. "I can deal with new coaches."

Joining Dooley's staff as the new defensive coordinator is Sal Sunseri, who left Alabama as its outside linebackers coach. O'Brien digs the hire.

"He said that he's going to be able to move me around. Wherever he puts me I'll play," said O'Brien, who admitted to talking about some 3-4 alignment and possible defensive end play under Sunseri.

"I think he's exactly what we needed. He's got a lot of experience. He's won two national championships. He knows how to win, which is what we need. We need to win next year."

Pegged to replace Thompson as the D-line coach on Jan. 20 was John Palermo, who made his way north to meet O'Brien last week.

"It was great," O'Brien said of meeting his next position coach. "That was the first time I'd met him. He left a good impression on me. We talked a lot about football. He hung around for awhile. So, it was a good visit. I like him a lot. Same thing with him (as Sunseri), he's got a lot of experience and won a national championship at Notre Dame and stuff. He's won."

O'Brien has done his part to try to get other top-flight recruits to join him in Tennessee's 2012 class, including Korren Kirven, who decides between the Vols, Alabama, Maryland and Virginia Tech on National Signing Day.

"I've been trying to get Korren to come. I talked to (Florida State commitment) Justin Shanks on his official visit, but I think he was there for a trip," he said.

O'Brien has a qualifying ACT score of 20 and plans on moving to Knoxville for the next several years in early June.

"As soon as I walk at graduation, I'm gone," he said.

Scout.com ranks him as the No. 18 defensive tackle in the country. He underwent surgery to repair the labrum in his left shoulder this winter.

The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder admits that he "hates" that he can't bench press, squat or do several other exercises at the moment due to the surgery. However, he is getting in some work where he can with leg extensions, calf raises, the exercise bike, etc.

Not only is O'Brien pumped about signing with the Vols on Wednesday morning at 8:45, he will head south in four months as a state champion. He and his Luke M. Powers Catholc (Mich.) High School teammates instituted a 56-26 beat-down on Lansing Catholic in the MHSAA Division 5 final at Ford Field in Detroit on Nov. 26.

"It's awesome," said O'Brien, who registered a tackle for loss. "It's the best feeling in the world, that's for sure."

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