SOUTH BEND, Ind. – When Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond was lying in a hospital bed with a debilitating headache in August, he wasn't worried about whether he'd play football again. He wanted to know whether he'd ever walk again.
"I didn't know whether that was going to be a possibility," Spond said. "That was the scariest moment for me."
The pain struck the junior from Littleton, Colo., about an hour into a summer football practice. He started getting a headache, but didn't think much about it. Then it started getting worse. His vision blurred, his face started tingling and became numb.
"It hit so hard and it was so intense. It was a complete numbness," Spond said. "It was a terrifying feeling."
An ambulance took him to the hospital and there was some fear originally he might have suffered a stroke. That was quickly ruled out, but it took doctors a while to figure out what was wrong while he was in bed, the left side of his body numb.
He was finally diagnosed with having a semi-hemiplegic migraine, which involves pain so bad that part of the body just shuts down. He remembers having a long talk with his father, Don, about whether he would play football again. He spent four days in the hospital and then had to undergo rehabilitation to learn to walk again. His left leg was limp, so he had to focus on picking up his leg, landing on his heel and pushing off with his toes.
"If I tried to speed it up, it went limp again. So it was just a slow process of training those muscles again to do what they normally do," Spond said.
When doctors told him they didn't believe the migraine was football-related, he decided to try to return. He sat out the first two games as he worked to regain his strength, but returned against Michigan State. He has been a solid contributor on a defense for the third-ranked Fighting Irish (10-0) that ranks eighth in the nation in total defense and first in scoring defense heading into Saturday's game against Wake Forest (5-5).
Spond has 33 tackles, an interception against Brigham Young and three pass breakups. As an outside linebacker, Spond might be setting the edge on one play, covering a wide receiver on another or taking on a 300-pound lineman on another. Against Boston College last week, he ran stride for stride with receiver Alex Amidon before diving to break up a pass.
"If they were giving out helmet stickers, he's have a lot of helmet stickers," coach Brian Kelly said. "He's a guy that gets a lot of production points."
Spond played quarterback at Columbine High School and was recruited to play quarterback at Colorado, where he originally committed to play, but chose Notre Dame instead even though he wasn't sure what position he would be playing for the Irish. Spond believes being a former quarterback helps him be a better defender.
"I've seen what he sees during a game. That's definitely helped me," he said.
Spond said doctors still don't know what triggered the migraine and don't know whether it will ever occur again. He said the first few times he began getting headaches after that he was concerned, but doesn't worry about it anymore. He said his Catholic faith helped him get through the most terrifying moments of dealing with the migraine and gives him confidence he will be all right.
"I'm just at a point where I'm fully relying on God to take care of me out there," he said.
With all he's been through, Spond is grateful to be playing for a team that could finish the season undefeated. He said he's not spending time worrying about whether the Irish will make it to the BCS title game.
"All we can do is win every game we have the opportunity to play. Numbers and computers, I don't mess around with all that. All we have control over is who we play and how we can play against them each Saturday," he said.