DENVER — Danny Spond circled Oct. 26 on his calendar, making a note of Notre Dame's game against Air Force about an hour south of his hometown of Littleton, Colo. That was back in May, when Spond and his family headed to Colorado Springs for dinner.
"Had dinner near the Air Force Academy tonight, I can't wait to play out here in front of all my home town family and friends my senior year," Spond tweeted.
Spond will be with Notre Dame on Saturday, but he won't play. His homecoming of sorts will be limited to the sidelines, thanks to the recurrence of hemiplagic migraines that ended his playing career back in August.
"This has definitely been a hallmark game in my mind since I was a freshman and the schedules projected us to play in Colorado," Spond said this week. "Its definitely something I've been looking forward to, playing or coaching it's just gonna be fun to go back to Colorado with Notre Dame."
The August reoccurrence of those hemiplagic migraines — which Spond also suffered last year, causing him to have stroke-like symptoms — were worse than ever before. It happened the third day of Notre Dame's practice, and it happened on a routine linebacker drill (contact was involved).
And as soon as it happened, Spond knew the end result.
"I'd be lying to you if I didn't tell you I was walking off the field with tears knowing this might be it," Spond recalled. "Football seemed to have something to do with it."
An under-the-radar breakout performer in 2012, Spond was counted on to fill the difficult role of 'dog' outside linebacker in Notre Dame's 3-4 scheme. It's a role that requires plenty from the player in both pass and run coverage, and Spond filled it well in Notre Dame's run to the BCS Championship.
After he knew his career was over, Spond didn't wallow and walk away from Notre Dame. He decided to stick around and coach the guys filling in for him, including the ultra-talented yet inexperienced Jaylon Smith.
Coach Brian Kelly said the knowledge Spond has passed on to Smith has been "invaluable."
"When you have somebody that was in it last year, was practicing at that position in the spring, it's just been great information that he's had firsthand from Danny," Kelly said. "And it's obviously shown to be very effective information for Jaylon."
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Smith, like Kelly, lauded Spond's influence on him this fall.
"The whole nine (yards)," Smith said, when asked what Spond's passed on to him. "Tips, how I can look at things, how I can better myself as a player, how I can help Stephon (Tuitt) out on a play, letting him know whether I'm rushing or blitzing, blitzing or in pass coverage. Just little things, that's what he helped me out with."
Smith has all the physical tools to play the position, but nailing down those little things — that's the impact Spond has had on Notre Dame, even if it's from the sidelines.
He's taken to living vicariously through Smith. So when Smith ran step-for-step with elite USC wideout Nelson Agholor and picked off a pass intended for him last weekend, it gave Spond a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
"That's a coaching high right there," Spond said. "That was an interception for myself. I was pretty excited about that."
While Kelly said Spond garnered about 10 job offers after speaking at Notre Dame's pep rally in Dallas earlier this month, perhaps coaching is in his future. The deeply-faithful Spond trusts that God has a plan for him — and if it's not playing football, perhaps it's coaching it.
"Everything happens for a reason," Spond said. "If this is my first step in a long coaching career or something or maybe one day being the head coach at Notre Dame, that could be an awesome step."
That's certainly a lofty goal, although the thought of Spond leading Notre Dame on to the field sometime down the road is fairly inspiring. But Spond was quickly reminded that the high-stress nature of coaching at Notre Dame probably wouldn't help with keeping those nasty hemiplagic migraines at bay.
"No not at all, not at all," Spond laughed. "That may bring a couple back or something."