Vols' Darrin Kirkland Jr. relied on 'will power' to play through injuries

Tennessee Tech's Austin Hicks (81) is surrounded by Tennessee's LaTroy Lewis (4), Kendal Vickers (39) and Darrin Kirkland Jr. (34). The Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles visited the Tennessee Volunteers in NCAA football action at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on November 5, 2016.

KNOXVILLE - Darrin Kirkland Jr. may have returned to the middle of Tennessee's defense, but he wasn't himself.

The sophomore linebacker's promising second season with the Volunteers was derailed before it even got off the ground due to an ankle injury he suffered in the second game against Virginia Tech.

photo Darrin Kirkland Jr. (34) goes through drills before the game. The University of Tennessee Orange/White Spring Football Game was held at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on April 16, 2016.

Kirkland missed five games before returning against South Carolina, but he made two tackles or fewer in three of the final five games of the regular season.

"I wasn't extremely healthy," he said after Tennessee's practice Monday. "I kind of got banged up on my way coming back.