Notre Dame’s Aug. 8 practice appeared to be just another day in the office for junior outside linebacker Danny Spond, especially once he started feeling headaches. That’s what happens, he thought, during the first week of practice while preparing for an arduous football season.
What was baffling was he hadn’t even really been hit but started feeling “a grating headache that got worse and worse.” Finally, he had to stop, ask the trainers for help, had to be assisted on to a cart … he had lost feeling on his left side of his body. He was rushed to a hospital, where he was immobilized for two days and unable to sleep.
Although the former high school quarterback/safety from Littleton, Colo., had reportedly suffered a concussion as a high school senior, Spond realized his situation was much more dire this time with the inability to move his left side. It left him “petrified.”
“I had every imaginable test done to me, and everything came back clear,” said Spond, while adding with a smirk, “I’ve learned that I’m a very healthy person.”
A stroke was thankfully ruled out, and so was a concussion. The final diagnosis was severe migraines, which surprised Spond and his family. Given how they had feared the worst, it was an immense relief.
“It’s something that caught me by surprise, so unexpected because I’ve never had headache problems before in my life,” Spond said. “It’s just another one of God’s challenges.”
After not being able to get out of bed for two days, Spond and his loved ones felt elation when he was able to move his left arm again and put one foot in front of the other, thereby being able to leave the hospital several days after he was admitted. One week after being removed from the practice field, he felt “100 percent” again, although the migraines persisted for a couple of weeks.
“I had to really monitor to it and cater to it,” Spond said “It was tough getting sleep for a couple of days with a lot of pain going on. I just had to battle through it and know there was a light at the end of the tunnel.”
He is now on prescribed medication which he takes if he can feel any of the migraine symptoms coming on.
“I might take a daily one just to make sure everything is under control,” Spond said. “I haven’t had any problems.”
It didn’t take long for him to have the itch to return to the football field.
“The only questions that I ever had when it all happened about returning to the game was, ‘Am I going to be safe enough to return?’ ’” Spond said. “That first concern was if my migraines were caused because of trauma or anything like that. They’re not. The love for the game that I have is what drove me. There are times when I would sit there and wonder, ‘Is it going to be the smartest to come back and play? I have to look out for my health.’ That was very short-lived. That love for the game and passion overrode that any day.”
Soon after his release from the hospital, Spond was taking incremental steps to make his return. During the week of preparation for the Navy opener, he began some light running work. During the preparation for Purdue, he put on the pads again and began very light contact work.
“By Michigan State week, when all the tests had come back good, they gave me the okay [to play],” said Spond of the medical staff.
“Mentally I was ready, no question about that,” Spond said. “I had been sitting in on every meeting, done everything I needed to do. That first week back of having to get physically ready and condition myself, that was probably the most challenging. I worked as hard as I possibly could each day, and that’s what helped me.”
Head coach Brian Kelly saw no signs of tentativeness in Spond during the week of practice for the Spartans.
“He pushed the envelope,” Kelly said. “He was the one who wanted to get out there. And so I think we had no hesitation of practicing him and playing him, because of the way he handled it. He wasn’t ‘Oh, I don’t know if I should play.’ It’s always been, ‘Once I’m cleared, I’m going to play.’ ”
Spond received the starting nod — the first in his career — against No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing and was part of a stellar defensive effort that held the Spartans to no touchdowns in a home game for the first time since 1991. He was credited with four tackles in the 20-3 victory while playing the extremely versatile drop or Dog position that requires the 6-2, 248-pound Spond to have the mobility and athletic skills to cover someone in the slot, and the physical skills to take on tight ends or even offensive tackles along the perimeter of the defense.
“I couldn’t imagine coming back to a more exciting game,” Spond said.
When asked how he graded out, Spond merely responded, “I have a lot to work on. I’ll never settle for anything and say that I’m happy where I’m at.”
In truth, though, given where he was at six weeks ago, Spond is ecstatic.