Former Notre Dame LB Danny Spond still has lofty goals

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

The persistent texts buoy Danny Spond’s mood, especially on those days when the hemoplegic migraines, that effectively ended his ascending football career, return for unwelcome encores.

Not that the former Notre Dame football player ever has to look far for blessings in his whirlwind life after football.

After touring with the band Chicago for five months— riding buses across the U.S., Canada and Mexico as the assistant tour manager for the group until mid-May — Spond promptly moved to Hilton Head, S.C., changed careers and got engaged to Madeline Wilson, all within the span of a month, earlier this summer.

Former teammate and Spond protégé Jaylon Smith made sure Spond’s connection to ND football didn’t get lost in the transition.

“He’s initiated the exchanges, which is pretty cool to see,” said Spond, barely a year removed from announcing to his teammates that persistent medical issues, that he transcended in 2012 to start 11 games, would take away his senior season in 2013, and beyond.

“Jaylon always wants to know how I’m doing, but we also talk about preparing him for the season and the things to expect during the season, now that he’s in a big-time leadership role. As far as that and the rest of his game, it’s all up to him. Sky’s the limit.”

Smith stepped into Spond’s role as a true freshman, while Spond remained with the team as a student position coach of the drop (outside) linebacker position. As a tribute, Smith wore Spond’s No. 13 on Senior Day last November against BYU instead of his normal No. 9.

For Spond, the number went well beyond sentiment or superstition. He chose No. 13 in honor of the 13 victims in the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in his hometown of Littleton, Colo. Spond was a second-grader in Littleton when Columbine High students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire on 34 people in the school at random. Their spree ended in a double suicide.

The drop linebacker position no longer exists, as such, in new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s made-over scheme, and Smith has moved inside to the weakside (WILL) linebacker position. Spond, a high school quarterback at Columbine, started his own ND career at inside linebacker, then moved outside.

“I know he’s set the goal as being the best linebacker in Notre Dame history,” Spond said of Smith, who makes his debut at the position Saturday in 17th-ranked Notre Dame’s season opener against visiting Rice. “And I believe he absolutely can be.

“He has all the talent in the world for it, physically and mentally. He’s developing that very well and, hopefully, I helped out a little bit there. But the best part is it’s in his control, and I’m excited to watch what he does with it and how he’s going to take control of his career at Notre Dame.”

It’s no longer about what could have been for Spond, who has gravitated into the heath care business as an account manager for CareCore National, whose CEO is ND grad John Arlotta.

“I definitely believe that everything does happen for a reason, and I’m starting to see that picture,” Spond said. “I’m starting to see why some of this happened. It’s not exactly too clear yet, because I’m still only a year out of it, but there’s no question I wouldn’t be down here, I wouldn’t be helping affect millions of people’s health care situations each day, which is something really, really special kind of being behind the scenes in that arena.

“I’ve met a lot of people on the road when I wasn’t playing through numerous alumni events that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to if I was playing full time, and that’s led to some pretty incredible opportunities that I can see happening down the road. Right now, it’s still a little hazy, but I know personally it’s definitely going to have a greater impact and more clarity down the road.”

He is writing a book about his experiences, with the working title of “Undefeated.” Spond hopes to have his part done in time to have it on the shelves by this Christmas. If not then, either by next spring football or by the time Smith is terrorizing opposing offenses as a junior in 2015.

“I definitely learned that it’s a marathon and not a sprint,” he said of the book-writing process. “A big part of my messages is I was fortunate enough that it was only football that was taken away from me. I can absolutely deal with that.

“But for a lot of people, they’re not so lucky, and things get taken away that mean a lot more through tragic events in their lives. So I try to add the perspective of being able to overcome situations like that and show them how to have a smile at the end of each day.”

Madeline Wilson is a big reason for Spond’s smile. The two met his freshman year at ND when she was a student at Saint Mary’s. She has also relocated to Hilton Head, where she is nurse in the neurology department at a local hospital.

“She was my hard rock, my heart and soul when I was at Notre Dame,” Spond said. “She’s the one who got me through it all, that’s for sure, along with my family. But she was definitely the main reason to help pull me through.”

Their hope is to get back to a couple of Notre Dame football games this season. Spond’s physical strength, drained by the hemoplegic migraines in both August of 2012 and 2013, has fully returned. But sometimes so do the migraines without the far-reaching effects that brought earlier.

“That kind of scares me, whenever they come up,” he said. “They definitely happen more than before all this stuff kind of happened, but as a whole, definitely a lot better than I was.”

And more than ever to make a difference.

“My long-term goal is to get into politics,” Spond said. “When I dream and I set goals, I set them high. So my ultimate goal is to get into that Pennsylvania Avenue house one day, one way or another.

“When I set that goal and reached out to various contacts on the best way to get into it, I was told from some people not to get into right away, to become an expert in something other than politics so that you can actually have an effect on something that’s very important to people.

“And that’s why I kind of really found a calling in health care. So my overall goal is absolutely to break into the political realm and that aspect, but that’ll take it’s time. Health care is my first step into getting into that door and I’m going to enjoy every step along the way.”

Former Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond has landed a job in the health care business and is writing a book. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Here is the unofficial depth chart for the Notre Dame football team heading into Saturday’s season opener with Rice.

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK

5 Everett Golson 6-0 200 SR

8 Malik Zaire 6-0 210 SO

14 DeShone Kizer 6-5 220 FR

RUNNING BACK

25 Tarean Folston 5-10 209 SO

1 Greg Bryant 5-10 205 SO

33 Cam McDaniel 5-10 205 SR

OUTSIDE RECEIVER

2 Chris Brown 6-2 195 JR

7 Will Fuller 6-0 180 SO

15 Corey Holmes 6-1 184 FR

SLOT RECEIVER

3 Amir Carlisle 5-10 190 SR

20 C.J. Prosise 6-1 220 JR

16 Torii Hunter Jr. 6-0 190 SO

TIGHT END

18 Ben Koyack 6-5 254 SR

80 Durham Smythe 6-5 242 SO

13 Tyler Luatua 6-3 260 FR

82 Nic Weishar 6-4 237 FR

9 Mike Heuerman 6-4 225 SO

LEFT TACKLE

78 Ronnie Stanley 6-6 315 JR

68 Mike McGlinchey 6-8 310 SO

67 Jimmy Byrne 6-4 295 FR

LEFT GUARD

77 Matt Hegarty 6-5 295 SR

65 Conor Hanratty 6-5 310 SR

62 Colin McGovern 6-5 313 SO

60 John Montelus 6-4 310 SO

CENTER

72 Nick Martin 6-5 295 SR

77 Matt Hegarty 6-5 295 SR

75 Mark Harrell 6-4 306 JR

RIGHT GUARD

74 Christian Lombard 6-5 311 SR

70 Hunter Bivin 6-6 296 SO

53 Sam Mustipher 6-2 305 FR

RIGHT TACKLE

79 Steve Elmer 6-6 315 SO

56 Quenton Nelson 6-5 325 FR

71 Alex Bars 6-6 305 FR

OUTSIDE RECEIVER

88 Corey Robinson 6-5 215 SO

11 Justin Brent 6-2 205 FR

10 x-DaVaris Daniels 6-2 203 SR

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE END

98 Andrew Trumbetti 6-4 251 FR

45 Romeo Okwara 6-4 260 JR

56 Anthony Rabasa 6-3 250 SR

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

91 Sheldon Day 6-2 285 JR

53 Justin Utupo 6-1 290 SR

50 Chase Hounshell 6-5 275 SR

55 Jonathan Bonner 6-3 269 FR

93 Jay Hayes 6-3 265 FR

NOSE GUARD

94 Jarron Jones 6-6 315 JR

75 Daniel Cage 6-1 325 FR

89 Jacob Matuska 6-5 289 SO

96 Pete Mokwuah 6-3 325 FR

DEFENSIVE END

90 Isaac Rochell 6-4 287 SO

33 Jhonny Williams 6-4 252 FR

92 Grant Blankenship 6-5 252 FR

11 x-Ishaq Williams 6-6 271 SR

STRONGSIDE LINEBACKER

17 James Onwualu 6-1 220 SO

30 Ben Councell 6-5 254 SR

31 John Turner 6-1 225 JR

MIDDLE LINEBACKER

38 Joe Schmidt 6-1 235 SR

45 Nyles Morgan 6-1 230 FR

59 Jarrett Grace 6-3 253 SR

1 Michael Deeb 6-2 240 SO

52 Austin Larkin 6-3 240 SO

WEAKSIDE LINEBACKER

9 Jaylon Smith 6-3 235 SO

48 Greer Martini 6-3 230 FR

43 Kolin Hill 6-2 230 FR

44 Doug Randolph 6-2 240 SO

8 x-Kendall Moore 6-1 251 SR

STRONG SAFETY

28 Austin Collinsworth 6-1 205 SR

22 Elijah Shumate 6-0 208 JR

4 Eilar Hardy 6-0 202 SR

23 Drue Tranquill 6-2 225 FR

FREE SAFETY

10 Max Redfield 6-1 198 SO

41 Matthias Farley 5-11 205 SR

29 Nicky Baratti 6-1 205 JR

LEFT CORNERBACK

2 Cody Riggs 5-9 185 SR

12 Devin Butler 6-1 195 SO

24 Josh Atkinson 6-0 195 SR

RIGHT CORNERBACK

3 Cole Luke 5-11 190 SO

19 Nick Watkins 6-1 194 FR

21 Jalen Brown 6-2 202 SR

6 x-KeiVarae Russell 5-11 190 JR

SPECIAL TEAMS

PLACE-KICKER

27 Kyle Brindza 6-1 236 SR

85 Tyler Newsome 6-3 190 FR

43 John Chereson 5-9 178 S0

KICKOFFS

27 Kyle Brindza 6-1 236 SR

43 John Chereson 5-9 178 S0

85 Tyler Newsome 6-3 190 FR

PUNTER

27 Kyle Brindza 6-1 236 SR

85 Tyler Newsome 6-3 190 FR

HOLDER

99 Hunter Smith 6-3 213 JR

LONG SNAPPER

61 Scott Daly 6-2 250 JR

99 Hunter Smith 6-3 213 JR

PUNT RETURNS

1 Greg Bryant 5-10 205 SO

2 Cody Riggs 5-9 185 SR

20 C.J. Prosise 6-1 220 JR

KICKOFF RETURNS

3 Amir Carlisle 5-10 190 SR

33 Cam McDaniel 5-10 205 SR

25 Tarean Folston 5-10 209 SO

1 Greg Bryant 5-10 205 SO

24 Josh Atkinson 6-0 195 SR

16 Torii Hunter Jr. 6-0 190 SO

x-Denotes player being held out of practices and games during ongoing academic fraud investigation.