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Notre Dame LB Danny Spond realizes his goal

Danny Spond who made his first start against Michigan State overcame serious migraine issue. | Getty Images

Danny Spond, who made his first start against Michigan State, overcame a serious migraine issue. | Getty Images

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Updated: October 22, 2012 6:30AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It began with a simple headache. The kind of headache every football player gets at some point, particularly while crashing helmets and shoulder pads together a few dozen times a day, particularly in the sweltering heat of early August. Junior linebacker Danny Spond shrugged it off because that’s what football players do.

But then the headache got worse. And worse. And worse. Suddenly, he was asking the trainers for help. Suddenly, he was being carted off the field and rushed to the hospital. Suddenly, he couldn’t move the left side of his body.

Concussion? Stroke? Something else? Nobody knew. But memories of a serious concussion Spond suffered in high school fed the fear. The thought that it could be something even worse increased the fear.

“I was petrified,” Spond said.

Aug. 8 bled into Aug. 9. Spond still couldn’t move half his body, and test after test kept coming back clean — almost maddeningly so.

Spond’s goal since arriving at Notre Dame after a stellar high school career as a quarterback and cornerback in Littleton, Colo., was to be a starter. But strapped to a bed in a darkened hospital room, the left side of his body rendered useless by some sort of mystery ailment, his dad by his side, that goal was modified.

“I was just trying to walk again,” Spond said.

He did. Just a few days later, surprisingly diagnosed with a severe migraine, Spond walked out of the hospital. A week after that, the headaches subsided, and he was finally able to sleep. By the week of Sept. 3, he was cleared to resume non-physical football-related activities. On Sept. 10, he put on a helmet and practiced for the first time. And last Saturday night — barely five weeks after stumbling onto a cart at practice and fearing the worst — in front of nearly 80,000 fans, on national television under the lights, Spond made his first career start at outside linebacker for Notre Dame.

“Love of the game is what got me through,” said Spond, whose suffering included having to watch his teammates play Navy and Purdue from afar. “Inside, I was dying. I was sick to my stomach. I just wanted to be out there so badly. I have such love for this game.”

That said, Spond knew he had to be careful. He re-evaluated his priorities — “Football’s just a game, and I’ve got to look at my whole life,” he said — but he quickly decided that once his symptoms disappeared, he wasn’t going to hesitate.

That attitude is what won over his coach, Brian Kelly, who otherwise might have been reluctant to put Spond back on the field so soon after his scare. He’d rather Spond not play at all than play afraid.

“Once you make that decision to put the gear on and go back out to practice, you’ve handled it,” Kelly said. “He pushed the envelope; he was the one who wanted to get out there. We have no hesitation of practicing him and playing him because of the way he handled it. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I should play.’ It’s always been, ‘Once I’m cleared, I’m going to play.’ So I think he handled that before he even played.”

Spond — who had no history of migraines — now takes daily medication to help prevent them, and he can take more if he feels one coming on. But he has been symptom-free for a few weeks now and says the tests he underwent at the hospital proved he’s “a very healthy person, other than those migraines.” He’s doing his best to put “the accident,” as he called it — even though there was no direct hit, no one moment that caused his symptoms — behind him and focus on restarting his college career.

And he’s no minor addition. Spond gives the Irish one more savvy veteran in a ferocious front seven — a 6-2, 248-pound wrecking ball on the outside, strong enough to plug gaps but quick enough to catch ball carriers on the perimeter. That’ll come in handy for the 11th-ranked Irish on Saturday night against No. 18 Michigan and dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson.

“Denard Robinson is the most electrifying player in college football,” Spond said. “It’s going to be tough to stop him.”

Given where he was six weeks ago, it’s a challenge Spond welcomes — and for which he is most grateful.

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