Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 8, 2018*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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42 OCT. 8, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED FOOTBALL RECRUITING BY DAVID MCKINNEY N otre Dame defensive tackle commit Hunter Spears has come a long way since tearing his ACL at a camp the sum- mer prior to his junior season. Spears entered his senior campaign rated as "just" the No. 45 player in Texas and the No. 30 strongside defensive end nationally by Rivals, but has been one of the most im- pactful players in the football- rich state of Texas. Through four games of the 2018 sea- son, he had racked up 28 to- tal stops, 13 tackles for a loss and five sacks, while adding a pick-six for good measure. After sitting out his entire junior year, Spears has not only made a full recovery from his injury and returned to form for Sachse (Texas) High, but also made his deci- sion to play at Notre Dame Feb. 20. W h e n t h e i n j u r y h a p p e n e d , Spears's father, Conan Spears, said he and Hunter 's mother tried their best to put on a brave face. "It was tough," the elder Spears said. "From our side of it, we were crying for him on the inside but put- ting on a big front on the outside and telling him, 'You can overcome this.'" Overcome it he did, but it wasn't easy. With major knee injuries like the one Spears suffered, there usually is a sense of hesitation upon returning to the field for fear that another injury could occur. Spears said part of his rehab was training himself not to think about that. "Every now and then you'll get a little scared, but that's all mental," the four-star talent said. "I really don't even think about it anymore. It's all behind me, and I'm looking forward to the future." Rehab from an injury and surgery are stressful enough for a high school junior, but Spears also began to focus in on his recruitment during his re- covery process. He took several vis- its, including one to Notre Dame for Junior Day Jan. 27 — his last trip to South Bend before committing. By that time, Spears' parents were already completely sold on the Irish. "After the first visit, we were pretty much in love with it," his dad explained. "He went on his second visit for Junior Day and came back thinking this is what I want to do. "We talked about it and we all agreed we couldn't think of a better place for him as an individual and a student-athlete." That first visit was for the USC game on Oct. 21, 2017, and although the elder Spears was ready for his son to shut it down right then and there, he knew he had to let Hunter make the decision for himself. "It was our first venture into this thing, and it was overwhelming," the elder Spears said. "If it was over- whelming for me, I can only imagine what it's like in the mind of a kid with all this being thrown at him. "We weren't pushy, and we let him measure the pros and cons. He's go- ing to be the one that's there for four years." Even though he didn't push his son towards Notre Dame, the father said seeing his son pick a place that puts such an em- phasis on education came as no surprise. "He's a really bright kid, and his studies have always been really important to him," he explained. "He's always prided himself on his grades and his class ranking, and he works really hard for that." The commitment was a huge moment for Spears and his family, but it almost never happened. According to his father, the now Notre Dame-bound defensive tackle almost gave up on football at the pee-wee level. "At that age if you weigh a certain amount, they put a sticker on your helmet and you can't play a lot of posi- tions," he said. "That really ir- ritated him, and in the third or fourth grade, he didn't want to play anymore." Spears kept with it though, and by middle school, people began to real- ize that a future in football was right there in front of him. "His eighth-grade year in middle school, he really fell in love with it," Conan Spears said. "He got to play some running back and defensive line, and he was eating them up out there. "It made him feel good, and I think we knew at that point there was an opportunity for him." After everything Hunter Spears has been through, almost giving up football, tearing his ACL and missing his entire junior year, and navigating the recruiting process of big-time col- lege football, Conan Spears said he couldn't be happier with the man his son is becoming. "We're super proud of the kid," he said. "He's an amazing individual and an amazing kid, and we're super proud of him. "He's worked his butt off in every aspect of school and sports, he's a good friend, a good brother and a good citizen. It's one of those things where you're overwhelmed with pride." ✦ Commit Hunter Spears Fights Through Adversity Spears got off to a great start for Sachse (Texas) High this season, amassing 28 total stops, 13 tackles for a loss and five sacks with a pick- six through four games. PHOTO COURTESY RIVALS.COM

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