SOUTH BEND – Saturday evening just after sundown the college football world will be focusing on a Notre Dame linebacker flying all over the field and making plays in an epic match-up at Oklahoma.
And they'll also be watching Fighting Irish senior All-American Manti Te'o.
The fifth-ranked Irish (7-0) will travel to eighth-ranked Oklahoma (5-1) at 8 p.m. (EDT) on ABC.
Football aficionados will catch a glimpse of Te'o, as they should, he's great and everyone acknowledges that. However, they'll also see play after play being made by Danny Spond, who in August had his participation this season very much in doubt.
“I think it's the classic case of somebody making you notice him,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of the Irish junior. “His play makes you notice him.”
Spond endured severe migraines during training camp and the problem lingered enough to keep him out of the first two games this season. But he has made up for lost time by starting each of the last five games.
“Danny has sacrificed a lot and put a lot of hard work into this team,” Te'o said. “He's dedicated himself and he could have easily just threw in the towel when he got that injury that he had. But I think it motivated him even more to come back bigger, stronger and faster.”
That he has.
Spond has totaled 22 tackles in the past five games, including eight solo. He's also been versatile enough in his pass defense from the outside slot to knock down three passes and intercept another. He has simply been too productive of an athlete not to play.
“I think that's been his development this year,” Kelly explained, “is that he's kept himself on the field on third down. He's is not just a first and second down guy. I think that speaks a lot to him.”
Notre Dame will need Spond's versatility and athleticism on Saturday. The Sooners rank 34th in rushing yards nationally and 26th in passing yardage.
“He's played extremely well this year,” Kelly said. “We knew he had some real strengths at the position for us. He's thick (and) he's strong, but he's athletic, and he works really well in space for a big fella (6-foot-2, 248 pounds)."
Spond's size, strength and athleticism was evident at Columbine High School, where the Notre Dame coaches were sure that they wanted him, they just didn't know exactly where they would play him.
“We recruited him as an athlete,” Kelly said. “He was a tight end in high school (and) played quarterback. He was a really gifted high school. We felt like he had a chance to grow in that position. It's nice to see that he's made people notice him.”
More than 82,000 Sooner fans will notice Spond on Saturday because if the last month has been any indication, Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will leave him on the field for a significant amount of time.
“To play the amount of snaps that he's playing it takes a lot,” Te'o said. “It takes a toll on your body, and for him to do what he's doing and be doing the things he's doing so as well speaks a lot to his dedication and commitment to this team.”