NOTRE DAME — Notre Dame was hit with a smattering of preseason injuries of varying severity last week, but one medical issue caused a starting linebacker to hang up his helmet for good.
Senior outside linebacker Danny Spond announced to his team on Saturday, Aug. 17, that he would no longer be playing football, according to head coach Brian Kelly.
Kelly didn’t get into the specifics of Spond’s decisions, only saying that it was medical related and that Spond’s family plans to release a statement next week.
“It was an emotional decision,” Kelly said. “It didn’t come without a lot of thought. He spent the day speaking to a lot of specialists and his family was here, so this was not a decision that came easy.
“He loves his teammates. But I think what’s most important is that he did what’s in the best interests for his future. He’s got a bright future and his immediate is that he wants to be with the team.”
Teammate and fellow linebacker Prince Shembo was devastated to hear the news.
“Danny Spond is like a brother to me, so when he told us, emotionally it was tough,” Shembo said. “He’s very intelligent, very smart, lives his life the right way so I know God has a plan for him.”
Spond was at Saturday’s practice, walking with a limp and a cane. Kelly said the senior will continue to be involved with the team as a coach for five-star freshman Jaylon Smith and junior Ben Councell, who will split time to fill Spond’s void.
“Who’s better qualified to give his experience, to help us with Jaylon and Ben?” Kelly said. “We’ll cross train Romeo Okwara at that position as well. He got a chance to talk to the team today and he’s beloved by everybody on our team. Obviously, he has a special place on our football team.”
A coaching role may be fitting for Spond. Shembo said his classmate was like a “dad” on the team.
“If you ever need a good answer or if someone needs to end an argument, go ahead and ask Spond,” Shembo said. “He’s that guy. He’s like a big brother to us.”
Spond faced a medical scare last August, when he was hospitalized after the left side of his body went numb during a preseason practice. Spond was diagnosed with a semi-hemiplegic migraine but rallied back to make his first career start against Michigan State six weeks later. He finished the season with 39 tackles and one interception in 11 games started and played.
In other injury news, back-up nose guard Tony Springmann will undergo an MRI on his right knee and miss the Aug. 31 season opener against Temple. Kelly said the extent of Springmann’s injury is currently unknown but that he’ll likely know more by Thursday.
Freshman linebacker Doug Randolph will undergo corrective shoulder surgery and will miss the season. Redshirt freshman running back Will Mahone was on crutches at Saturday’s practice from a high ankle sprain that Kelly said would keep him out for 10-12 days.
Kelly noted several freshmen who have impressed him during preseason camp, specifically receiver Corey Robinson and running back Greg Bryant.
Robinson made several impressive catches in coverage during Saturday’s practice, drawing reactions from the crowd gathered.
“He’s gotta get stronger, more physical, but there’s no question he can help us on the perimeter,” Kelly said of Robinson. “He catches the football. He consistently catches the football. It doesn’t matter who he goes up against. If the ball is put in the right position he’s gonna come down with it.”
Kelly said Bryant has a lot to learn but continues to absorb the offense.
“He’s a great kid, hard worker,” Kelly said of Bryant. “He’s gonna be a really good player. And he picks things up quickly. He’s got some more work to do. There’s so much more for the running back, you know? But he’s done a nice job.”
Kelly mentioned several other freshmen who expect to get on the field this year.
“When it comes to coaching, if we make it that complicated that we can’t get (freshman linebacker) Jaylon Smith on the field then we’re not very good coaches,” he said. “It’s that simple. If Jaylon Smith or (safety) Elijah Shumate can’t get on the field or I can’t get (freshman cornerback) Cole Luke on the field or we can’t get (freshman offensive lineman) Steve Elmer on the field then we’re missing the boat.”
TUITT’S WEIGHT GAIN
All-American defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt’s weight may be up 20 pounds, but it’s not from what Kelly describes as deciding to “eat Cheetos on the couch and not work out.”
Tuitt spent the summer recovering from a hernia operation that left him unable to participate in most of the strength and conditioning drills the rest of the team does.
“He’s stronger physically than he was last year,” Kelly said. “He just put on a little more body fat. We’ll get that down. It’ll be easy to whittle that down. ... I wanna kind of defend the kid a little bit in this instance that he didn’t go off the reservation and decide to eat bad food. He’s done what we’ve asked him to do.”