Gunkel: Todd Kelly from iPad to I play

Todd Kelly Jr. fights his way back from an early-season setback to see the field in his team's 59-30 victory over Bowling Green Saturday in Nashville.

Todd Kelly Jr. prepared for Bowling Green’s high-powered offense from a hospital bed.

This wasn’t your typical Grey’s Anatomy episode either.

From Monday until Thursday afternoon, with IVs dangling from his body and a screen perched in front of his face, Tennessee’s sophomore safety studied Dino Babers’ scheme.

After having his tonsils removed two weeks before the season began, Kelly was sidelined for virtually the entire game week with an infection that crept up after the procedure, despite being named the starting strong safety on Tennessee’s official depth chart Monday.

But Todd Kelly wasn’t just going to sit around and wallow in self-pity. He just did what he had to do to ensure he wouldn’t miss the chance to make an impact for his team in its opening game.

He watched film. He rehabilitated inside the gray walls of a hospital room (all hospital rooms are gray. It’s science). He went through so many mental repetitions his head coach thinks he may have broken some kind of fictional record. Kelly did just about everything he possibly could do to sneak onto the field Monday.

And on Saturday, he did.

“He broke the record for video watched in a hospital room,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones joked after the game. “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 and he helped us win a football game.”

Kelly notched two tackles in his team’s 59-30 win over Bowling Green and seemed to calm the defense down when he was in the game. He did it all confined to a hospital bed for four days prior without taking a single practice snap until a day before the matchup.

The only contact the Knoxville native received was with his iPad on his lap.

“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,” Jones said. “It takes a mature young man to do that."

Kelly didn’t receive the start as planned, conceding the first snaps and many after to fellow sophomore Evan Berry. But he was still able to fight through some early-season adversity to log meaningful reps in a big Tennessee win.

For that, his head coach — who called Kelly an “unsung hero” who “epitomizes what we’re building here” — was appreciative.

“I think that speaks volumes for him and his family, so I just want to say thank you,” a smiling Butch Jones said after the game.

He just may want to charge his iPad before Monday.

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