KNOXVILLE — Todd Kelly Jr. spent most of last week confined to a bed at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
The sophomore safety still managed to play and make an impact in Tennessee's season opener last weekend.
Kelly's chances of playing appeared doubtful all week as he remained in the hospital until Thursday afternoon last week after undergoing a procedure to remove an abscess near his recently-removed tonsils, but he put his recovery period to good use by watching video and preparing as if he planned to play against Bowling Green all along.
"It was pretty crazy," Kelly said after Tuesday's practice. "There's nothing like sleeping on a hospital bed for four nights and hanging out five days. I got some personal time, got to hang out with my mom and my dad. I'm happy that I'm so close to being home that they got to hang out with me and make sure I was all right and make sure I was being taken care of.
"The training room guys did a great job of taking care of me. The doctors that work for UT, they got me back on that football field."
The former four-star recruit would have started against the Falcons if healthy, but his absence for much of Tennessee's preparations made it highly unlikely he would play.
Kelly had other ideas, though, and he entered the game late in the second quarter with Tennessee struggling to slow Bowling Green. The Vols appeared to settle in defensively with him on the field and, as defensive coordinator John Jancek indicated Tuesday, by playing more zone over the top with its safeties to help out its struggling cornerbacks.
"It meant a lot," defensive end/linebacker Curt Maggitt said of Kelly's impact. "Everybody knows his situation and what was going on with him. For him to come back that fast, that's crazy. He's a great communicator (with) great energy, and a lot of guys got respect for him, so having him on the field with us is always good."
Head coach Butch Jones joked after the 59-30 win that Kelly "broke the record" for film watched in a hospital bed.
"Probably can't count it on my hands," Kelly said. "When you're sitting in the hospital, it's just you, the bed and the TV. Luckily we had the iPads. That's a great investment that they did in the football program. I was able to tune into practices and meetings even though I wasn't there, so I felt like I was with the team."
The 5-foot-11, 208-pounder from Knoxville had his tonsils taken out midway through preseason practice, and he noticed his throat was sore the Sunday night before the opener and decided to get checked out the next day.
Once he was released from the hospital, strength coach Dave Lawson tested his conditioning. Although he was on antibiotics all week, Kelly — a biomedical engineering major who also worked to stay caught up in his classes — showed enough that he was made available on Saturday.
"I know he was crushed, and it bothered him to not be here," Jancek said. "He had his iPad with him, and he was looking at video and watching game film and trying to stay up to speed with everything that we're doing. But certainly it's not like practicing. I was just thankful that we had him for the game so that we could spell some guys. It's good to have him back."
Kelly said he's back to 100 percent, and his return should boost a shaky secondary looking to bounce back against Oklahoma's potent passing attack.
"As a unit, we made a lot of mental errors, and Coach Jancek emphasized how many mental errors we made (were) just simply mistakes that we can easily fix," Kelly said.
"I feel like it was easy mistakes, and it's easy to fix. I feel like as a unit, we're going to be prepared, and we're going in with the mindset that we hopefully won't make as many mental errors as we did last game."