From the day Danny Spond arrived on campus, it was clear that he had an admirer that held quite a bit of influence.
Last August, when Spond was merely known as one of the five high school quarterbacks Brian Kelly brought in as recruits, he made his first serious blip on the radar, with the head coach highlighting his preseason play on media day.
“Danny Spond has been really, really dynamic,” Kelly said almost eight months ago. “I don’t know that we have many guys that play with their hands and can really shock you. He’s going to be on all of our special teams.”
That was high praise for a guy that was recruited by many D-I schools as a quarterback, but Spond delivered. He opened the season against Purdue on the field for opening kickoff. From there, he ascended the depth chart at two different linebacker positions until an injury on special teams against Pittsburgh forced him to the sidelines.
“It was obviously a setback, but I learned a lot when I watched the guys and took what I could from it,” Spond said.
It’s clear as spring practice makes its way past the midpoint that Spond took quite a bit from a freshman season many thought would be transitional. In an open battle at the dog linebacker position where veterans like Dan Fox and Steve Filer are competing, it’s Spond and fellow rising sophomore Prince Shembo that have taken the lead.
“It’s a great battle between Shembo and Spond right now,” Kelly said last week. “Right now, either one of those guys can play winning football for us at a high level. Both of those guys have made us very comfortable at the drop position and now we can look toward the Cat and the Will and the depth at the Mike because we feel really good about those two guys.”
It’s quite a compliment to both Spond and Shembo that the head coach thinks two freshman that are vying to replace seniors Kerry Neal and Brian Smith are playing good enough football that he can worry about who’s backing up Manti Te’o and Darius Fleming.
But Spond’s rapid development is another early example of a late-targeted recruit that Kelly and his staff identified that’s making enormous strides physically and developmentally. Spond and Kona Schwenke are two of the biggest gainers physically since last football season, with Spond’s 17 pound weight gain an extraordinary one for a guy that was thought to play safety.
And with the Blue-Gold game less than two weeks away, Spond’s trying to do as much as he can to put himself in position to be in the starting lineup when the Irish take on South Florida in September.
“I’m just working on my physicality, and really showing that I can help out this team and do whatever it takes,” Spond said.
It looks like some people that matter are noticing.