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Comeback kid

Matthew DeFranks | Thursday, October 25, 2012

It was a simple routine for Danny Spond.

He would wake up. His neurosurgeon would visit him. They would discuss his progress. His physical therapist would come in. They would move around. He would rest and wait – wait for a prognosis, wait for a recovery, wait to walk again.

The next day, the junior linebacker would wake up in South Bend Memorial Hospital and do it all over again.

What started as a simple headache grew to a pounding and crippling migraine for Spond, who spent three days at Memorial Hospital and one day in a fourth-floor room at the University of Michigan’s Neurology Clinic.

“It was tough, a lot of tears,” Spond said. “I just realized this was all in my plans, all in God’s plan for me. He wasn’t going to give me anything I wasn’t going to be able to face.”

After Spond arrived at the hospital Aug. 8, he could not move the left side of his body and feared he would never walk again – but then the visitors began to come.

The entire coaching staff and senior linebackers Manti Te’o and Dan Fox stopped by Wednesday night to visit the Littleton, Colo., native. Spond’s father and girlfriend both made the trip to check in on him.

“It meant everything to me,” Spond said. “I was in the hospital alone for a little bit without my family because they couldn’t get there right away. Just having my other family there meant everything to me.

“Medicine can only support you for so long until you need your family and friends to help you.”

Despite the upcoming season, Spond, who suffered a severe concussion in high school, said he could only think of one thing.

“The only thing I was focusing on was my health, being able to fully function again and I had no idea how long it was going to be,” Spond said.

Spond, who still does not know what caused the debilitating migraine, missed the first two games of the season, relegated to the sidelines as Notre Dame topped Navy and Purdue.

“It was really tough, just watching from the sidelines, acting as a coach really,” Spond said. “It was very difficult and it was tough to deal with, a lot of ups and downs. The love for the game just kept me going through. My faith knowing that I was going to get back out there was my driver. It was very hard. I didn’t like it by any means, hope to avoid it.”

Despite the increased awareness on head injuries in football, Spond said the migraine has not affected the way he plays.

“Once I was fully recovered and was confident I was going to be taken care of, I just played my game, just get out there and do what I love to do,” Spond said.

Breaking out
Spond made a full recovery in time to make his first career start at then-No. 10 Michigan State, taking over at the drop linebacker position.

“Going into that week’s preparation, I told myself, no matter how good of a game, no matter how bad of a game, we’re just going to give it our all,” Spond said. “At the end of day, we’ll be okay. The score and my play will take care of itself. I was very nervous, first start in a college game going up against Michigan State, an awesome team and very strong. I was nervous but I knew I was prepared for this.”

Spond finished with four tackles in Notre Dame’s 20-3 domination of the Spartans.

The Knott Hall resident played quarterback and defensive back in high school and was recruited to Notre Dame as an athlete but primarily played on special teams his first two seasons in South Bend. He totaled 14 tackles in 2010 and 2011.

“It was great for game experience,” Spond said. “I learned the game speed the past couple years on there. It definitely had a lot of benefits.”

As a former quarterback and a current coverage linebacker, Spond said his experience on the other side of the ball helps him tremendously.

“I’ve seen what the quarterback sees during the game so that definitely helps with my coverages,” he said. “It adds a new dimension to being able to play a game.”

Spond has piled up 22 tackles, an assisted tackle for loss and an athletic pass breakup despite playing in just five games. He said the production can be attributed to his newfound experience.

“I’m very comfortable at my spot and I understand my role,” Spond said. “The past couple years, I have been a little hesitant to make a mistake here or there but this year I have a new perspective on the game, I have a second chance and it’s time to get out there, play and have fun.”

Spond has been a key cog for an Irish defense that ranks second in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 9.4 points per game. The political science major has consistently been on the field for not only first and second down but also third down.

“I think it’s the classic case of somebody making you notice him,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “His play makes you notice him. He’s played extremely well this year, and we knew he had some real strengths at the position for us. He’s thick, he’s strong.  But he’s athletic, and he works really well in space for a big fella.

“And I think that’s been his development this year, is that he’s kept himself on the field on third down. He’s not just a first and second down guy. I think that speaks a lot to him.”

Te’o agreed with Kelly’s assessment of Spond.

“Danny has sacrificed a lot and put a lot of hard work into this team.  He’s dedicated himself and he could have easily just threw in the towel,” Te’o said. “I think it motivated him even more to come back bigger, stronger and faster, and to play the amount of snaps that he’s playing it takes a lot. It takes a toll on your body, and for him to do what he’s doing and be doing the things he’s doing so as well speaks a lot to his dedication and commitment to this team.”

During Notre Dame’s 17-14 win over BYU on Saturday, Spond had another career first – an interception. On the Cougars’ final possession, Spond dropped back into coverage before making a leaping snag to seal the Irish victory and 7-0 start.

“That was unbelievable for me, having to get in there and seal the game and having that happen was awesome,” Spond said. “The ball went up in the air and there wasn’t going to be anybody that was going to take it away from me.”

Now Danny Spond has a new routine – no more hospitals, no more headaches, no more bedrest. Just football.


Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]