SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Danny Spond, an unsung hero of Notre Dame's run to the BCS Championship in 2012, has decided to end his playing career for medical reasons, coach Brian Kelly announced Saturday.
Spond informed his teammates of his decision Saturday, and was seen walking with a cane on the sidelines during practice. He and his family are expected to release a statement explaining the reasoning behind the decision, which Kelly said was "extremely complicated."
Spond will still be a part of Notre Dame's efforts this fall, as he'll stay with the team as a student coach. He'll work with the team's dog linebackers, teaching them the finer points of playing a difficult outside position in Bob Diaco's 3-4 defense that requires an ability to play both the pass and run.
Safety Austin Collinsworth said Spond's announcement to the team was an emotional moment.
"He's just talked about how much he really loved and appreciated us, and the feeling is absolutely mutual," Collinsworth said. "We're gonna miss Danny. Luckily, I think we're gonna have him a little bit, which is going to be nice, but a really sad moment for the team."
Spond will travel with the Irish this fall, in what would've been his senior season. Last year, Spond returned from a preseason health scare -- ruled to be severe migraines -- to play a key role in Notre Dame's defense. He stayed on the field and succeeded in nickel situations, an important facet of his game for a team with extremely thin cornerback depth.
If there's a silver lining for Notre Dame, it's that the Irish aren't without depth at dog linebacker. Jaylon Smith, rated as the third-best recruit in the class of 2013 by Rivals.com, saw most of the reps with the first-team defense during Saturday's practice, with junior Ben Councell taking the rest. Sophomore Romeo Okwara will be cross-trained between the dog and cat (pass-rushing linebacker) positions, while safety John Turner dropped down to play some dog Saturday as well.
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Still, quarterback Andrew Hendrix said Spond's announcement was a "tearjerker." Kelly said the decision was hardly easy, although in his mind, Spond made the right call.
"I think what's most important is he did what's in his best interests for his future," Kelly said, "and he's got a bright future."