Danny Spond stood before his teammates on Saturday and told them he was done.
The senior retired from the sport that turned him into a four-star recruit out of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and led him to start against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. While head coach Brian Kelly declined to give specifics, the head coach confirmed Spond's decision was a medical one.
Spond suffered a debilitating concussion in high school that nearly ended his career before he could enroll at Notre Dame. Last August he suffered severe migraines that left him hospitalized for a short time. He returned for the season's third game and started the rest of the way.
Kelly said the family would release a statement on Spond's reasons for walking away from the sport next week. Regardless of that, Notre Dame's defense is down more than a returning starter.
"Danny Spond is like a brother to me," said Prince Shembo. "When he told us, me emotionally, I felt it. We're still going to be here for him. He's very intelligent. He lives his life in the right way, so I know God has a plan for him."
Spond hasn't practiced since the team returned from Shiloh Park. Ben Councell and Jaylon Smith have rotated in his place, with the five-star freshman taking the majority of first-team reps on Saturday.
"It's a tear-jerker for sure because we know what kind of guy Danny is," said Andrew Hendrix. "He's unbelievable. He's a kid of faith. He's everything you'd want in a football player and a Sam backer. We wish him the best. To see that happen to Danny puts everything in perspective, and we wish him the best."
Spond arrived at practice on Saturday in a Notre Dame hoodie and walked with the assistance of a cane. He watched over the linebackers and Kelly indicated the senior would help instruct Smith and Councell this season. Cat linebacker Romeo Okwara will cross-train at dog, as will safety John Turner.
"What was pretty apparent was that it was an emotional decision and didn't come without a lot of thought," Kelly said. "He spent the day speaking to a lot of specialists and his family was here. This was not a decision that came easy. He loves his teammates.
"But what I think was most important is he did what was in his best interest for his future. He's got a bright future. His immediate (future) is he wants to be with the team. Our teammates were excited to hear that he's gonna be with us every day. He'll travel with us. He'll help coach. I think they see in one sense they're not gonna have a teammate but they're gonna have somebody that's gonna be with them every day and he will truly be seen every day."
Spond finishes his Notre Dame career with 52 tackles, four pass breakups, one interception and one forced fumble. He played a special teams role as a sophomore and freshman before breaking into the defense last season.
Spond was also among Kelly's first recruits, flipping from Colorado to Notre Dame after his senior season. When Spond got the call from Kelly that a scholarship had been offered, he was forced to pull over to the side of the road as he broke down in tears.
"It was a really, really sad day for all of us," said Austin Collinsworth. "Danny made the right choice. You've got to put your health first."