By TIM REYNOLDS
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond values every chance he gets to be on the football field.
That might sound trivial. After all, doesn’t every player feel that way?
Probably so, but then again, few players have seen what Spond has seen.
The native of Littleton, Colo., was a star quarterback at Columbine High, where a school shooting took the lives of 13 people in 1999. Now a linebacker, he wears jersey No. 13 to honor those victims and has been deeply affected by the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., last month.
In August, he feared he might lose his football career when a migraine headache struck him so severely that he was unable to move parts of his body.
Now he’s about to take the field with a national championship at stake.
“This is the biggest stage that we’ll ever play on,” Spond said.
No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) meets No. 2 Alabama (12-1) on Monday night at Sun Life Stadium, a matchup of storied programs that will collide and decide the BCS national champion. Spond is expected to start for the Irish, who enter the game with the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense, just a smidge ahead of the Crimson Tide.
Alabama is favored, which to the Irish isn’t exactly a relevant point.
“In our eyes, this is a step down from the Super Bowl,” Spond said. “Underdog or if you’re favored in these games, that doesn’t really matter.”
And if anyone on the field Monday night can speak on what really matters, it might be Spond.
He knows what the Columbine shootings meant to his community, both then and now. He grieved for the victims of the school massacre in Newtown that took the lives of 26 students and teachers at an elementary school.
“I can’t express how horrible of an event that is,” Spond said Thursday, when he was among a small group of Notre Dame players who met with reporters in advance of the title game. “Going through that ... unspeakable. It’s hard to explain. It’s hard to put into words. I don’t know what to say about it, other than time will heal. It did our community and I know it will there.”
Spond relies on faith and makes no secret of it, using his beliefs to get him through tough moments, on the field and off.
When he was hospitalized in August, football wasn’t his concern. Walking was.
Parts of Spond’s left side were numb when he was struck by the migraine, which doctors originally feared was a stroke. He walked with a limp after spending about half a week in the hospital, then needed rehabilitation just so he could feel close to normal again. Football was pushed aside.
That is, until he surprised the Irish by coming back so quickly.
“We were just wondering if he would ever be able to function regularly on a daily basis,” Irish star linebacker Manti Te’o said. “And then for him to come out — what was it, a week and a half later? — and say ‘I’m going to practice,’ we were like, ‘Oh, Danny, you can just chill, you know. This is life we’re talking about, not just football. Just chill.’ But he goes, ‘I’m going to get ready.’”
So he got ready. He finished the regular season with 38 tackles in 10 games, which doesn’t sound all that impressive.
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco begs to differ.
“Danny Spond is, to me, one of the players of the year,” Diaco said.
“To watch him battle and fight and stay positive and become the player that he has become for his teammates in 2012, he is a stalwart out there to the field. It’s very hard to get a play on him in the pass game or the run game. It’s just really been inspirational for me to watch and be a part of. So I’m so thankful for Danny Spond specifically in my life.”
Spond said the six-week wait for this has been easier than some might think, since it’s allowed the Irish to prepare and heal.
In short, he knows his team will be ready for whatever Nick Saban and Alabama can throw Notre Dame’s way on Monday night.
“They are a great team,” Spond said. “They are obviously in this game for a reason and they have proved that in the past couple of years. Coach Saban has built a very strong program over there, so we’re preparing for their best. They’ll give us their best.”