Spond returns after fearing the worst

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Forgive Don Spond if he's not as rah-rah about beating Michigan as the rest of the fans who will pack Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday. It was just little more than a month ago that he and his son Danny joined an Irish athletic trainer for a three-hour trip to Ann Arbor, Danny's return to the football field the last thing on any of their minds.

There, upon the recommendation of Notre Dame's training staff, the Sponds met with a neurologist who spent two hours performing every test in the book on Danny days after an increasingly painful headache forced him to leave an Aug. 8 practice. The left side of the junior's body had eventually gone numb, he had become so sedated by painkillers that his father didn't recognize his voice over the phone and, naturally, bad thoughts had started to circle everyone's heads as Danny sat helplessly in the hospital for two days while struggling to sleep.

No direct hit likely ruled out a concussion. The term "stroke" was tossed around. Everyone braced for the worst.

"I was petrified," said Danny, whose only history with head injuries was a severe concussion suffered in high school, one that doctors determined was unrelated. "I was relying on Christ quite a bit."

With no desire to break the silence along the drive to Michigan, Don, who had immediately flown in from Littleton, Colo., kept things to himself.

"I was hoping to say, 'You know Dan, let's sit out this year, make sure your head's all back and hit it again next year,'" he said. "And I would've been totally happy with that."

The ride back to South Bend was, in Don's words, much happier. The family was told that Danny had suffered a severe migraine, that he'd be back playing football in one-to-four weeks and that he should take medication to prevent something similar from happening again.

In six weeks' time, Spond has gone from worrying about ever properly walking again to worrying about how to contain Denard Robinson. He had been cleared for non-contact activities after the Irish's opener, returned to practice after their second game and, last weekend at Michigan State, started at dog linebacker for a unit that was instrumental in lifting Notre Dame to a 3-0 start.

"Once I could finally start working out a little bit, I would train each and every day with that goal in my mind, that my No. 1 goal is to be a starter here," Spond said. "And I've just got to keep working for that each and every day, and that mindset and support around me, that's what got me back."

Spond's parents saw that win from home, more than 1,000 miles away, spurning their usual away-game get-togethers with friends at their house to watch and worry about their son without any distractions.

By night's end, their nerves had been calmed.

"We were very nervous," Don said of the last game. "Nowadays people go through their life and say, 'Hey, take it one game at a time.' We learned it's one play at a time right now, it's one minute at a time. You can't predict the future and you've got to treasure every day, every minute and that's what it is. We live one day at a time right now, and that's what my wife and I discussed as we sat in the living room and watched the game.

"We were just so excited to see him out there. We were just proud parents. When the game was over we were smiling and happy for him and couldn't wait to talk to him about the game."