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Rivalry game gets Kirklands attention

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Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence Central 2015 linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. had seen Michigan play host to Nebraska earlier this season, but his visit for Saturday's rivalry game against Ohio State was decidedly more intense.
"I had an unbelievable experience at the Big House yesterday," Kirkland said Sunday. "With that rivalry blood, I could just tell the difference in the motivation they had from start to finish. The passion from the fans was there the whole game and it was really just an unbelievable environment to be around."
Although Michigan fell to the Buckeyes by a final of 42-41, Kirkland came away impressed with what he saw on the field.
"There is nowhere to go but up," Kirkland said. "They have a great program and that shows in how well these coaches were able to prepare for this week.
"Just to be around those top guys in the Midwest and a couple guys from really far - just the horses they are going to bring in, everyone wants to be a part of it. I was really excited just to be in the presence of Michigan yesterday."
A four-star prospect with seven offers to his credit, Kirkland spent time chatting with several of Michigan's commits and other recruiting targets while on campus.
"I talked to Michael Ferns a little bit and Ian Bunting as well," Kirkland said. "Talking to Ian, he just said the relationship he has with the coaches was like no other. He had been to a couple other schools and didn't connect with anybody else like he did at Michigan. That was pretty exciting to hear from him."
Kirkland came away with a similar sense of that personal relationship after his meeting with the Michigan coaches before Saturday's game.
"Coach (Mark) Smith talked to me and my family, as well as Coach (Greg) Mattison," Kirkland said. "It felt like we were just having a casual conversation and not like he was recruiting me. It was really casual, which I liked a lot."
Michigan has not yet offered Kirkland and that topic did not come up in their conversation Saturday, but the Indianapolis native feels strong interest from the Wolverines.
"They really, really like me and think I can come in and make an impact," he said. "He wants me to come back up during bowl practices, so I guess I will learn more about (an offer) when I go up then."
Ohio State has also been showing strong interest in Kirkland this season, and he has visited Columbus for a game this season. Watching the Buckeyes on the field Saturday gave him more insight to their schemes and personnel.
"They have one of the most explosive offenses in the country," Kirkland said. "Their defense, I think, would have been a little disappointed in their performance, but I think it was just a great game yesterday overall for both Ohio State and Michigan."
The opportunity to witness the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry first-hand has increased Kirkland's interest in both schools. He has no set plans for visits in the near future, but expects to be on more campuses in the near future.
Josh Helmholdt is the Midwest Region football recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.
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