Coach Spond at Peace

Senior linebacker Danny Spond won't play football with his Irish teammates in his home state of Colorado Saturday. He won't ski anytime soon thereafter, nor will he likely partake in amusement park rides or any other activity that might again trigger the most trying element of his young life.

In mid-August 2012, Spond lie hospitalized in downtown South Bend, the left side of his body numb, the cause unknown, his career in jeopardy. By January 2013, Spond had started 10 straight games for the undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish, rarely leaving the field as a "three-down" linebacker alongside Heisman runner-up Manti Te'o.

Others from his position group were part of a defensive rotation. Spond's only rotation was between positions.

"He's been so consistent, we don't even take him off the field in nickel," said head coach Brian Kelly of his junior drop linebacker last October 20th. "I don't know if you guys know it, he plays corner (in the nickel package). Here's a guy that's playing corner and running with the No. 2 (inside) receiver in bracket coverage.

"Kid has been tremendous. He's been an unsung player on our defense and we appreciate him."

One year later, they still appreciate him. For his courage, his commitment, and his coaching.

"I've been a part of this team just as if I was playing," said Spond, out of uniform since early August, retired from the sport he loves. "I've been at every meeting, every practice. Now it's a new role, I'm coaching. Getting these guys to see what I used to see and things that help them to make sure they get their jobs done. Everything besides putting pads on I would say."

Spond doesn't put on the pads because at some point early in the team's third training camp practice, symptoms related to his hemoplegic migraine condition returned.

"We were just going about our daily practice, doing regular linebacker drills and contact stuff. Shortly after that it came on," he said of the persistent headaches. "I'd be lying to you if I didn't tell you I was walking off the field in tears knowing that this might be it, because football seemed to have something to do with (the migraines returning)."

He's not sure, no one is, a reality that remains frustrating, but one Spond's accepted.

"I've sat with every doctor you can imagine and gone through every test," Spond said. "The exact cause for these is still unknown.That's the way it goes with migraines in general. For me, personally, I believe (head contact) has something to do with it which is why I'm coaching now. The exact causes are uncertain."

Pay it Forward

The program's 2012 Rockne Student-Athlete award winner, Spond now spend his time mentoring -- to borrow a phrase from senior classmate T.J. Jones -- "one of the lucky ones."

Five-star Über-athlete, Jaylon Smith.

"Jaylon's a tremendous athlete, it's been fun to work with him this year. He's twice the athlete I ever was, that's for sure," Spond offered. "My main goal to make him reach his potential is to get that mental part of the game, he's just a freshman. It takes a couple years of experience to really learn the system. I'm hoping to shave off some of that time with him, to really learn the ins and outs to be the best player he can.

"When you come in as a freshman you have all the physical attributes, but you have to learn the system. For me it's fun, to hopefully shorten off a year or two of the mental game with him. Teach him what to watch for."

Spond's prize pupil has played better each week, his most recent exploit a textbook interception vs. rival USC, one in which the freshman's progressions: stop the run, secure the individual assignment, rotate to help in zone coverage, were all on display.

"That was awesome," said Spond. "That's a coaching high right there. That was an interception for myself. I know what that's like. For him to do it and do it now, I'm glad to see I've had an affect."

Smith's adherence to the school of Spond has served him well at the vexing drop (field side) linebacker position.

"The position that me and Danny play, on one play you have to cover a slot receiver, then next go head up with a 300-pound guy," Smith explained. "You have to be versatile. With Danny helping me and being there to correct me when I make mistakes, that gives me an extra push.

"He's helped me with the whole nine," Smith continued. "Tips, how I can look at things, how I can better myself as a player. How I can help Stephon (Tuitt) out on a play, letting him know whether I'm rushing or in pass coverage, just little things I can help others out with."

Spond studied the position for three seasons prior to his last day in August. If there's an expert in South Bend outside of coordinator Bob Diaco, it's the Littleton, Colorado product.

"It takes time. As someone there for three years, I do know what to watch for and what to look for on film," Spond said. "(Smith's) play speaks for itself. His reaction and the plays he can make on defense. Behind the scenes it's been fun to see an 18-year-old kid just out of high school to really listen to someone just a few years older than him. I really respect that."

Beyond Acceptance

Spond's last 14 months have offered ample time for progression through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance challenge everyone at some point, but a college senior walking with the aid of a cane seems especially cruel.

Which is why Spond moved past that crutch as soon as physically possible.

"This episode was definitely the worst in terms of physical ailments and such," said Spond. "The cane was used (in August), I still hadn't gained control or regained good strength on the left side of my body yet. I hated using it, it's definitely something you don't want to see. It's tough to deal with it as a 21-year-old. But I got rid of it."

"Day-to-day I'm fine now," he continued. "I'm on a regular medicine schedule to hopefully prevent anything that could come around. I stay away from anything that could possibly shake my head around quite a bit or bang it around. Other than that, it's pretty normal day-to-day.

"Migraines and causes are different for everyone around the world. The brain is something that people just don't know much about, that's definitely what I've come to learn. For me personally, I feel (football and head impacts) definitely has something to do with it, which is why I'm coaching, or why I'll stay away from water skiing or skiing in general anymore."

Spond noted an affinity for coaching, though one position for which he might be well-suited should probably be avoided.

"This has been exciting for me. I'm trying to make the best of this year, and everything happens for a reason. If this is my first step in a long coaching career or something or maybe one day being the head coach at Notre Dame, that could be an awesome step."

Reminded leading the Irish isn't exactly a stress-free occupation, Spond joked, "Yeah, that might bring them (symptoms) back."

Spond's ability to provide levity belies increased sadness with his abrupt retirement from the game.

"Each week it gets a little harder, I've found out, (not being able to play)," he said. "It's hard. But I've accepted this. I realized (football) was my plan. It's not what God had in store for me, so falling back on that kind of helps me find peace with all of this."

The Irish defense found an apt on field replacement for their versatile drop linebacker in the freshman Smith.

The Irish program though will never find another Danny Spond. Top Stories