Notre Dame commit Hunter Spears opens up about recent second ACL tear

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

One of the first recruits the Irish coaching staff visited during the new contact period was Hunter Spears, a Notre Dame 2019 defensive tackle verbally committed to sign with the Irish later this month.

Head coach Brian Kelly and defensive line coach Mike Elston swung by Sachse (Texas) High on Nov. 27 to see the 6-foot-4, 267-pounder. But this was no ordinary visit.

Spears had just torn the ACL in his left knee for the second time in 19 months.

“That visit was great,” Spears told ND Insider, opening up for the first time since the injury. “They wanted to come in and check on me, see how I was doing and see how recovery was going so far. They want me to get prepared for my transition up there and be ready to play next season.”

The key words there are “next season.’’ Spears tore his knee ligament in a Nov. 5 practice, getting caught up in a pile. He underwent surgery on Nov. 13 but expects to be ready by the 2019 season.

Spears suffered the same injury in April of 2017, tearing it at Rivals’ Dallas camp while doing one-on-one drills.

The Irish staff never considered revoking his scholarship offer, he said.

“They have been great through the process,” Spears said. “They have all been supportive, being there for me and offering me any resource they can offer. They have been offering me guidance and any knowledge they can offer me. They have been really great through the process and just sticking with me through this. They know that we are going to get this together and come out better.”

Spears’ first ACL tear sidelined him for his junior season. But he returned for a monster 2018 campaign, registering 58 tackles, 24 TFLs, five sacks, 13 hurries and a pick-six across nine games. Spears’ second ACL tear occurred 11 days prior to Sachse’s first playoff game.

“This one definitely was not as bad as far as pain-wise and severity,” said Spears when comparing the two injuries. “I feel like the recovery process has been easier so far. I feel more confident knowing that I’ve been through the process, the experience, knowing that I can do it again.”

Recovery has gone well for Spears, who dons a brace only when at school. He’s gone beyond the required three days of rehab per week, working on it from home. Most of his exercises are basic for now — like stationary bike work.

Spears is among the 10 ND commits in the 2019 class who intend to enroll early.

“I think the early enrolling process will definitely be beneficial,” Spears said. “Getting up there, getting to sit at meetings and learn the playbook, the schemes and stuff, the techniques. I’m going to be able to rehab with them in all the facilities they have. It will be beneficial through the process, strengthening-wise and getting back.”

The Irish want Spears at defensive tackle, but they are also open to him at strongside defensive end. 247Sports rates him as a four-star prospect, tabbing him as the No. 21 defensive tackle nationally and No. 354 overall player. Rivals also rates him at four stars but ranks him at No. 33 for his position.

With the new NCAA redshirt rule, Spears could see the field for four games next season and still retain that year of eligibility.

“If I get up there and that’s the case, I’m totally fine with that,” Spears said. “But I think we are all of the mindset of me getting on the field.”

Elston also visited Spears on the Wednesday of ND’s bye week in mid-October. The ACL injuries serve as an inspiration for Spears, who now aspires to be an orthopedic surgeon.

“I’ve had a really good group of my family and friends,” Spears said. “They have all been very supportive of me, helpful and helping me transition back. They have just been positive and telling me that I’m strong, and that I’ve got all the people behind me in the world to get back.”