For every ounce of inspiration Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o, who persevered after unthinkable personal tragedy earlier this fall, provided his teammates this season, he took just as much from them.
Danny Spond battled back after a serious scare in fall camp to start 10 games this fall for Notre Dame at outside linebacker
Te’o often pointed to the heavens in a public display of his deepening faith, one on which he leaned through the death of his girlfriend and grandmother in a span of just a few hours back in September. But he also points to his band of football brothers as a source of strength and motivation.
Becoming the burning furnace fueling the Fighting Irish to an undefeated season and trip to the BCS National Championship against Alabama, Te’o compelled the rest of the team to dig a little deeper, hit a little harder and dream much bigger. But it was another Irish linebacker going through an uncertain and emotional time back in fall camp that helped strengthen team bonds.
On the verge of starting for the first time in his career, junior Danny Spond was taken off the practice field on a stretcher early in August and taken to a nearby hospital after a headache rapidly evolved into the loss of movement on the left side of his body. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with Littleton, Colo., native, ruling out a concussion. The headaches intensified as he waited out the next several days in a darkened hospital room, still without full use of his left arm and leg.
It wasn’t until a few days later that he was diagnosed with severe migraines. When he was feeling somewhat back to normal, including full use of the affected limbs, he walked out of the hospital and told head coach Brian Kelly that he was ready to get back to work — a decision Kelly, the coaching staff and Spond’s teammates thought was premature.
With the green light from doctors, Spond gradually worked his way up to full contact, cracking the starting lineup for Notre Dame’s third game of the year at Michigan State on Sept. 15.
“Once you make that decision to put the gear on and go back out to practice, you’ve handled it,” Kelly said back in September. “He pushed the envelope; he was the one who wanted to get out there. We have no hesitation of practicing him and playing him because of the way he handled it. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I should play.’ It’s always been, ‘Once I’m cleared, I’m going to play.’ So I think he handled that before he even played.”
Spond registered 38 tackles in 10 games, playing a crucial role in a defensive front seven that grabbed the nation’s attention, not to mention Te’o’s.
“Even going further back than his episode, 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,” Te’o said Thursday. “We were just wondering if he would ever be able to function regularly on a daily basis. And then for him to come out, what was it, a week and a half later and said I'm going to practice said, 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 goes, ‘I'm going to get ready.’”
Spond was attentive in film study before he got back on the field, so much so that he answered some of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s toughest questions, according to Te’o, when nobody else knew the correct response.
“Dan Spond is to me one of the players of the year,” Diaco added Thursday. “… I wasn't sure that he was ever going to have the functional life he was going to be able to have before that moment. 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.”
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