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Former Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond

Former Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond talks about having his career end because of severe migraine headaches and helping the team this season in a coaching capacity. By Tony Krausz, The Journal Gazette

File | Associated Press

Former Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond finds new role

SOUTH BEND – Former Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond knew he only had two choices when his playing career was cut short by severe migraine headaches.

"It was a very emotional time, a very hard time for me and my family. I told myself I had two options in this, I can either give in and let this beat me and let it define me, or I could beat it," Spond said Wednesday. "The way I was going to do that was to give all I have for this team. The team gave me so much. This university has given me so much. It was my job to give back to them."

Spond had to stop playing after suffering second bout of hemiplegic migraines, which can mimic the affects of stroke, in as many years.

The migraines cost Spond the first two games of his junior season, and when they returned three days into fall camp this season, the senior had to decide to stop playing.

"This episode was definitely the worst up to physical ailments and such," said Spond, who had to walk with a cane at one point. "The cane was used, because I just still hadn't gained control or had good strength in my left side of my body yet. It was needed. I hated using it. It's definitely something you don't want to see. It's tough to deal with as a 21-year-old."

Spond has given back to Notre Dame by staying with the team and helping in a coaching capacity.

The senior has taken freshman and former Bishop Luers star Jaylon Smith, who replaced Spond in the starting lineup, as well as junior Ben Councell, who backs up Smith, under his wing.

"He's an amazing young man," coach Brian Kelly said. "He's done a great job of handling the transition, which, as you know, for somebody that has played football all his career and now in his senior year has it taken away, now he's on the other side of it, he's been great. He's been upbeat. He's been positive, coaching, if you will. His coaching has been more of a communicator and translator, if you will, of information. He doesn't sit in the coaching room breaking down film, but he's at every practice. And he travels with us. He's on the sideline. Just been a great mentor to our linebackers, in particular Jaylon and Ben."

It isn't always easy for Spond, who played in 29 games and had 52 tackles in his career, to be on the sideline.

"Each week gets a little harder. It is hard," Spond said. "I've accepted this. I realize it's my plan. It's what God had in store for me, falling back on that kind of helps me find peace in all of this."

This week is a little harder for Spond not be playing.

The Irish (5-2) return to the Littleton, Colo., native's home state to play Air Force (1-6) on Saturday.

It is a game Spond had been looking forward to since coming to Notre Dame.

"I could remember back in May, I went to Colorado Springs, just to have dinner with my family. I remember tweeting something about I can't wait to play here in October," Spond said. "This had been a hallmark game in my mind, even as a freshman when the schedules projected us to play in Colorado. It is definitely something I've been looking forward to, playing or coaching, it is just going to be fun to go back to Colorado and play a game."

Spond said he feels fine day to day, though he has cut out any activity that could jostle his head. He also takes medication daily to help fend off attacks.

"Migraine causes are different for everyone," Spond said. "The brain is something that people just don't know much about. That's what I've come to learn. For me personally, I feel (football) is something to attribute, which is why I'm coaching. And why I will probably stay away from water skiing, or skiing in general, any more."

What Spond could see himself do more of is coaching.

"This has been exciting for me," Spond said. "I'm trying to make the best of this year. Everything happens for a reason, and if this is my first step in a long coaching career, or something, maybe one day I'll be head coach at Notre Dame.

"That would be an awesome step."