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Ten players, ten reasons: Danny Spond

Dec 26, 2012, 9:22 PM EDT

BYU v Notre Dame Getty Images

The second in a series on ten below-the-radar players whose performances helped key the Irish’s run to a national title game. For more, see part one on Zeke Motta.

It’s a story that’s been told, but certainly one that bears repeating. Danny Spond thought his football career was over. In August, the junior linebacker, the leading candidate to play Dog linebacker, a position that’s been tough to fill in the Irish defense the past two seasons, suffered a scary injury on the football field in August.

Early reports said Spond suffered a particularly nasty concussion. Some thought he had suffered a stroke. Others thought it was heat exhaustion. Whatever it was, it left Spond with blurred vision and eventually a pain so debilitating that his body went almost entirely numb.

“It hit so hard. It was so intense. It was a complete numbness,” Spond said, recalling the incident.

That numbness didn’t subside. Spond laid in a hospital bed for multiple days, doctors continuing to run tests on the Colorado native, unable to figure out what had stopped Spond from being able to move almost half of his 250-pound body.

“I was just trying to walk again,” Spond said.

To look back at the incident now, even Kelly’s comments on the injury — a scary incident that had spread like wildfire across Irish message boards and websites — showed the confusion that came along with the symptoms.

“We’ve been able to eliminate some things,” Kelly said of Spond’s condition. “First of all, he did not have a concussion. We exhausted a number of different tests. He’s come back clean on all of them. We’re going to do a little more work before we move any further with him relative to contact and getting him on the field.

“I’m not trying to be evasive, but they’ve eliminated head injury as well. So we can’t give you a specific, because they’ve done so many tests that have come back clean, but yet obviously there are still some symptoms as well.”

It took specialists at the University of Michigan to finally identify the problem. Spond was diagnosed with a semi-hemiplegic migraine, a headache so painful that it essentially shuts down the body. It took nearly a week for the headaches to stop, allowing Spond to finally sleep peacefully. He had to go about reteaching himself to walk, his left leg still riddled with numbness.

Spond wasn’t cleared to resume football related activities until early September, but the veteran linebacker who had his first two seasons marred by injuries, willed his way back onto the football field in time to help the Irish beat No. 10 Michigan State before playing a crucial role in the Irish’s 13-6 victory over Michigan, a game where Spond made a career best seven tackles and forced a fumble.

From there, Spond has seen his production take off, filling a crucial role in the Irish defense, using his athleticism and size to be one of the most diverse defenders on the Irish roster. A year after playing Prince Shembo out of position at a linebacker spot where versatility is the most important trait, Spond’s return helped key the Irish defense’s resurgence, and solidified the linebacker’s crucial role on one of the nation’s most impressive units.

“If they were giving out helmet stickers, he’d have a lot of helmet stickers,” Kelly said. “He’s a guy that gets a lot of production points.”

Just as important, Spond fills a role at a position that was in vital need of production. Without Spond, the Irish were likely to need redshirt freshman Ben Councell to play major minutes, a daunting task for a young linebacker that hadn’t seen the field. Kelly’s contingency plans were just as shaky. Seventeen-year-old linebacker Romeo Okwara was shifted outside, pushed into a depth chart at a spot that was hardly a natural fit. Same thing for safety CJ Prosise, who took practice reps down in the box throughout August. Even Shembo, who struggled in the open field as a sophomore, was preparing to replace Spond, a move that would’ve robbed the Irish of their best edge rusher.

Spond’s stats won’t particularly wow you. His 38 tackles, one interception, and three pass break-ups aren’t dazzling, but Spond’s ability to cover a wide receiver in space, and hold up at the point of attack, is something not a lot of players can do. But after two years of only hearing the head coach’s praise for linebacker’s natural ability, Spond has more than lived up to billing.

The relationship between linebacker and head coach is an interesting one. When Kelly took the Irish head job, many were interested to see the type of players the new head coach would bring in. One of his first targets was Spond, a high school quarterback that was recruited as a “big skill” player to South Bend. In every aspect, Spond fit a recruiting profile. He was an intriguing athlete — a player Kelly brought to campus with the thought that Spond would help the staff figure out where he’d end up on the field. He was also the personification of an RKG. A true scholar-athlete, Spond was something of a renaissance man. During Sun Bowl prep in El Paso after Kelly’s first season, Spond’s original piano composition, played from memory in front of both Notre Dame and Miami’s roster, let you know that the Irish weren’t just getting a typical jock.

Then again, that shouldn’t be surprising. In a season where nothing seems typical, Spond fits the bill perfectly. He’s battled long odds, back from an injury that nearly robbed him from playing football, and taken control of a position where his teammates desperately needed him.

It may be the understatement of the year, but Spond has come a long way since August.

 

 

  1. harvupdyke - Dec 26, 2012 at 10:09 PM

    Eddie Lacy has come a long way this year too.

    Happy new year & roll dam tide.

  2. papadec - Dec 26, 2012 at 10:24 PM

    That’s nice, thank you for sharing – now please take your seat & stop picking your nose, while the rest of the class gets back to work.

  3. ndnapa - Dec 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM

    I love Danny Spond’s play this year. I think he is the most underrated part of this defense and a real key to becoming National Champions again. He is always in the right position to make a play and has amazing range in pass coverage for a LB. If you watch him specifically, he is grading out as one of the top players on one of the best defenses in the country. It’s just that Teo, Chocolate, Tuitt and Shembo make the eye-catching plays, that few notice. But I can see why the coaches LOVE him.

    • ndnapa - Dec 27, 2012 at 12:02 AM

      few notice Spond (that is.).

  4. mtflsmitty - Dec 27, 2012 at 1:12 AM

    Great idea for series, Keith. Thanks for the great work.

    My nephew (a heck of a catcher, now in his third year at a D1) told me three years ago that his buddy, Danny Spond, had just signed with the Irish. He told me that not only was this kid a really cool guy, but a freak of an athlete.

    Given the Baconesc connection, I followed his story closely this spring. First and foremost, I’m so glad he recovered his health. But then to see him come on the way he did was a great story for younger kids, and even for us old guys. Hard work always pays.

    Congrats, Danny. My nephew was right. You are a really cool guy.

  5. mtflsmitty - Dec 27, 2012 at 1:30 AM

    Keith, I realize you probably don’t need any more helpful suggestions for story ideas. But here go’s anyhow…for the offseason that is.

    Most everyone has heard of the DOG, the CAT, the MIKE, and the WILL. Moreover, we’ve heard of the FIELD CORNER, and the EDGE CORNER. And we know what they stand for. But I’d hazard a guess that most don’t fully appreciate the key assignments of each position. Sure, we understand that DOG means drop for coverage. But what are the rest of his assignments, and what are his reads. What the heck does the CAT do? What makes one guy a better FIELD CORNER, vs. EDGE CORNER? How zone blocking works for the O-line would also be very interesting.

    I realize you may not be a X/O’s expert. But I bet you can gain access in the off season to those who are. Lots of avid readers who would love to appreciate (even more) the amazing work our guys do out there.

    Maybe a once per week ND X/O’s Series to get us through the long weeks of winter, or after the Blue and Gold game. Just a thought. Thanks for your consideration.

    • nudeman - Dec 27, 2012 at 1:55 AM

      Concur. I’d love to read an explanation of all this.

      Btw, I’m doing this from my phone and inadvertently gave a thumbs down.

    • Keith Arnold - Dec 27, 2012 at 6:16 PM

      I’ll put it on the offseason list.

      That said — if you don’t feel like waiting, head over to SmartFootball.com. Chris is the best in the biz for stuff like that.

  6. mtflsmitty - Dec 27, 2012 at 1:35 AM

    Boundary. Not edge. See, I don’t know much of anything. Help!

  7. yaketyyacc - Dec 27, 2012 at 4:55 AM

    with these personal stories, and thanks Keith for them, we begin to appreciate so much more what goes into a championship season.
    PREDICTION; GEORGE ATKINSON III WILL SCORE, NOT ONE, NOT TWO, BUT THREE TOUCHDOWNS ON LONG RUNS AGAINST ALABAMA.

    • nudeman - Dec 27, 2012 at 10:38 AM

      Hope you’re right, but the odds of a breakout game for him are very long.
      If I had to guess, I’d say ND staff is not completely sold on where he’s at in terms of his development.

      If you give him a straight line to run on and say “Go George” he’s awfully good simply because he’s so fast. No one will catch him from behind.

      Put a couple impediments in his way in the form of defenders who he has to make miss and the probability drops significantly for a big gain.

      Give him just one person who he has to lower his pad level and knock over and … well, that ain’t gonna’ happen despite a decent frame and size.

      I hope the switch flips on these things this offseason. He’s such a talented guy and that kind of speed never goes into a slump. Not so sure though …

    • bernhtp - Dec 27, 2012 at 3:08 PM

      George is amazing in space, but there will be little space with the speed and strength of the AL defense. Riddick’s quickness and strength to squirt through slivers is far more important, IMO, along with his pass-catching threat. I doubt that GA3 gets many balls his way, let alone enough for three TDs. Maybe they used the five weeks to beef up their ST personnel and blocking schemes so he can get some returns going.

  8. jvsirish - Dec 27, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    I’m 71, retired and barely have enough time to keep up with ND blogs.
    Ol’ ‘Bama harv aughta’ get a life. A silly comment following an amazing
    personal triumph story on an opposition blog indicates a lack of life
    goals. Great suggestion about off season Xs & Os Smiity!

  9. getsome99 - Dec 28, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    I don’t know about 3 TD’s, but I would love to see ND’s speed on offense and special teams blow Bama off the field. ND has shown incremental improvement every week this year and are far from hitting their ceiling. They’ve basically had another half season to get healthy and prepare for this game. I expect to see things I’m not expecting in Miami.

  10. stoney76 - Dec 29, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    Nudeman, check out a YouTube video titled notre dame national championship prediction 6th game.

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