Knee injuries force Notre Dame OL Hunter Spears to medically retire

Tyler James
ND Insider
Notre Dame offensive lineman Hunter Spears, left, announced Thursday he has medically retired from football. Pictured, Spears celebrates with defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola following Notre Dame's 2019 victory over Virginia.

Hunter Spears came to Notre Dame with an unfortunate injury history. 

Spears, who was recruited as a defensive lineman out of Sachse (Texas) High in the 2019 class, tore the ACL in his left knee twice in 19 months with the latter injury coming near the end of his senior season. 

Spears was never able to escape that injury history at Notre Dame. On Thursday afternoon, Spears announced on social media he has taken a medical retirement from football. The move will allow him to remain on scholarship at Notre Dame without participating in practices and games. 

“I have been through a lot in these last 4 years from countless knee surgeries to being a part of a team in the College Football Playoff,” Spears wrote in his social media statement. “The game I love so much, however, has taken an immense toll on my body both physically and mentally. After consulting with the program’s medical team and coaching staff, I have decided that it is in my best interest to medically retire from football.” 

Spears will no longer count against Notre Dame’s scholarship limit, which was pushed to 87 to allow nose guard Kurt Hinish and kicker Jonathan Doerer to take advantage of an extra year of eligibility with the NCAA’s COVID-19 exemption. The Irish now have 84 players on scholarship without Spears. 

Spears came to Notre Dame rated by Rivals as a four-star recruit and the No. 29 strongside defensive end in the 2019 class. 247Sports slated him as a three-star recruit and the No. 40 defensive tackle. 

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The 6-foot-4, 304-pound Spears recovered from his high school knee injuries in time to play in three games as a freshman. He tallied two tackles as a defensive lineman in blowout victories over New Mexico, Bowling Green and Boston College in 2019. 

Spears switched to the offensive line in 2020 and worked as the No. 2 left guard in the one and only spring practice before the pandemic wiped out the rest. Spears missed the 2020 season with a knee injury and didn’t participate in the Blue-Gold Game this spring. 

The Irish have an opening at right guard in their starting lineup, but Spears didn’t figure to be one of the top candidates for the role. 

“I was able to live my dreams,” Spears wrote in his statement. “I played football for the University of Notre Dame surrounded by brothers I will have for a lifetime and supported by people who love and care about me. The only regret I have is not having another body to give to this program and university.”

Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.