By RTI contributor Stephen Kasper
Following Tennessee’s 59-30 victory over Bowling Green Saturday night, head coach Butch Jones wasted no time acknowledging sophomore safety Todd Kelly Jr.’s resilience after being hospitalized last week with an illness.
“Another unsung hero who just epitomizes what we’re building here is Todd Kelly Jr.,” Jones said during his post-game press conference. “[Kelly] was in the hospital up until Thursday afternoon, and I believe he went in on Monday.”
Despite being sidelined from practice, Jones said Kelly did his part to make sure he was ready to play as soon as he regained his health.
“He broke the record for video watched in a hospital room,” added Jones. “He had an infection, had IVs, they wouldn’t let him go. And then when they let him go, he came right over on Thursday afternoon and we conditioned him, he practiced on Friday, and then he played today.”
Kelly, who would have likely started for injured LaDarrell McNeil, suffered with an infection that stemmed from having his tonsils removed earlier this summer. While fellow true sophomore Evan Berry got the start next to Brian Randolph, Kelly came in the second half and gave the Vols some help on a night they struggled in the secondary.
And although he wasn’t physically able to practice, Jones said Kelly hadn’t missed a beat mentally.
“Well really, it was like he was out there all week of practice,” said Jones.
“Again, that’s a tribute to him. Preparing the mind is so big, and like I told you, he had an iPad and he watched every single practice. He watched, I believe, every Bowling Green game that we had. And so even though he didn’t prepare himself physically, he had prepared himself mentally. It takes a mature young man to do that.”
Although he didn’t play the first half of the game, his impact was felt and appreciated by his teammates once he hit the field. Junior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said it meant the world to see Kelly out there with him.
“It was crazy,” Reeves-Maybin said. “I didn’t really expect for him to be out there at all. For him being sick all week and not practicing, it was definitely big to see him out there with us. I told him that I loved him after the game just for being out there with us.”