Diamond in the Rough

There were plenty of known quantities on the Irish defense entering the 2012 season. Notre Dame's "other" every-down linebacker wasn't one of them.

Manti Te'o, Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix and Kapron Lewis-Moore were the givens.

Bennett Jackson, Prince Shembo, and Dan Fox were rightfully assumed.

Danny Spond?

Does the oft-used phrase, "training camp battle" ring a bell?

That's how Spond entered and exited Spring 2012 and most of August training camp, locked in competition with redshirt-freshman Ben Councell.

That is until a different kind of camp battle felled the Dog 'backer hopeful. The 6'2" 248-pound junior spent three August days in the hospital due to debilitating migraines that affected his motor skills and numb left side.

That was mid-August. By mid-September, Spond was back in the fold, earning his first career start in a win at then No. 10 Michigan State.

"We were just wondering if he would ever be able to function regularly on a daily basis," said Te'o. "And then for him to come out, what was it, a week and a half later? And say 'I'm going to practice.'

"We were like, 'Oh, Danny, you can just chill, you know this is life we're talking about, not just football. Just chill.'

"But he said 'I'm going to get ready.'"

By early-October, Spond wasn't only ready to be back on the field, he couldn't be pried from it.

"That's been his development this year, he's kept himself on the field on third down. He's not just a first and second down guy," said head coach Brian Kelly earlier this season. , "He's been so consistent. We don't even take him off in nickel -- he plays corner(back). Here is a guy that's playing corner in our nickel package and running with the No. 2 (receiver) in bracket (coverage).

"He's been physical at the point of attack…I could go on and on. Kid has been tremendous. He''s been an unsung player on our defense and we appreciate him."

Unsung and invaluable. Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese share the Will 'backer position. Prince Shembo cedes time at Cat and DE to Ishaq Williams. Danny Spond and Manti Te'o don't leave the field.

If you're judged by the company you keep, Spond's social status is in line with 2012 college football royalty.

"I don't have to tell him much when I'm out there," said Te'o. " We can always count on Danny Spond answering Coach (Diaco's) hardest questions. Coach D asks such a hard question and we're sitting there and there's silence, and all of a sudden you hear Danny blurt out an answer as if he knew the whole time and just wanted to see who was going to answer. That's Danny Spond.

"He's a very smart player. He doesn't complain at all. He's always positive, and he's just a great teammate to have."

Smart, but also blessed with, to borrow a phrase from his defensive coordinator, the necessary "tangible traits" as well.

"He's thick, he's strong, but he's athletic and he works really well in space for a big fella," said Kelly.

Those traits allow him to remain on the field not only in the team's nickel packages but as an edge lineman in goal line situations as well.

"Danny came out of high school as a quarterback, and for a quarterback to go to outside linebacker and to be setting the edge on 300-plus pound linemen, that takes character and courage in itself," said Te'o.

Strength, quickness, knowledge of his craft, and the undeniable desire to join his teammates after a major health scare.

"There had been so much in the month that I was down and unable to play and finally getting able to put on a helmet again made me feel so relaxed," said Spond of his assimilation back into the fold. "And finally being able to run through the tunnel again, as a player, it's just unbelievable and really relaxed me. So my first game back against Michigan State was just, back at home.

"You don't understand how much you miss something until it's gone," Spond noted earlier this season. "It's pretty cliché, but it's true. When you love something so much and it's your whole life and you work everything each day all year for it and it's taken away from you, it's tough.?

?"So when you finally get that chance to get back out there, it's everything to you."

He's meant nearly as much to Diaco's defense.

"Dan Spond is to me one of the players of the year," said Diaco. "And to watch him battle and fight and stay positive and become the player that he has become for his teammates in 2012, he is a stalwart out there to the field (side). It's very hard to get a play on him in the pass game or the run game. It's just really been inspirational for me to watch and be a part of. So I'm so thankful for Danny Spond specifically in my life."

From Dog linebacker 1A in camp, to irreplaceable starter on a 12-0 title contender.

"I never thought he'd play football again," said Lewis-Moore of Spond. "But he's out [on the field] flying around and he's over there at the podium [at the BCS title game]."

Rarely has a camp battle been won so decisively as Spond's.

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