Notre Dame freshman Drue Tranquill stepping right in
When Doug Dinan began his tenure as the head football coach at Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2010, he remembers a freshman joining him as a newbie within the program.
The more and more Dinan and his staff watched Drue Tranquill play, the more and more they felt that they had to somehow get him on the field. It wasn't one particular thing, rather a lot of little things that the player did so well that keeping him off the field just because he was a freshman made less and less sense.
Brian Kelly knows the feeling.
"The more that you see him play – and this is kind of how his recruiting went as well – the more that you're around him, the more that you're just impressed by all the little intrinsic details that he's good at," Dinan said. "He has a great nose for the ball. He has great hand-eye coordination, runs well, is very physical. It's tough to keep him off the field. I think that that's going to grow and I think you're going to see him on the field more and more."
That's evident, with Tranquill becoming one of those many vital parts to defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's mixing-and-matching defense that has held opponents to a combined 17 points, all coming courtesy of Rice in the season opener.
"Well, he's a physically strong, conditioned athlete," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "So he's physically beyond his years condition‑wise and he carries himself not like a freshman. He's just a highly‑conditioned athlete and physically strong that he can compete. His is just a learning curve of the game and the speed of the game. But we'll get him ready and he'll continue to play more and more football."
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Tranquill, who has not yet been made available to the media since he arrived at ND, seems to be a perfect fit. With a time in the 40-yard dash, according to Dinan, of 4.45 seconds, he's fast enough to cover receivers. With good size, he's strong enough to work in the box and tussle with tight ends or take on blockers. In fact, during Tranquill's recruitment, the Notre Dame staff toggled between Tranquill projecting as a linebacker and safety.
"He can play at the second level. But the more you watched him on pass coverage and the more they watched him on film, they thought of guys that had been leaders in the secondary at safety and they were thinking of some needs, some weaknesses within the program at safety, and I think that kind of changed their recruiting mindset," said Dinan, who, when asked to offer a comparison in playing style, threw out former Irish safety Zeke Motta, who is now with the Atlanta Falcons.
"Is he a safety? Is he a linebacker? Well, I don't know. Ultimately who cares, because the kid can play."
That's what Kelly saw when he decided to pull the trigger on an offer. Tranquill had committed to Purdue, this week's opponent in Saturday night's Shamrock Series game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
"At the time, that was the best offer. It's an in-state school, they've got a great engineering program, he's a high academic kid. It fit," Dinan said. "And unselfishly, he also wanted to make the decision prior to our 2013 season, which I told him all along, it was not going to impede, it was not going to interfere. I was not worried about that. But that was his mindset – again, less about me and more about the entire program. Those were some of the reasons why he committed early – get it out of the way, this is what I've got, I don't see anybody else coming to me right now."
Not long after Tranquill committed to the Boilermakers, Kelly went with his gut and pulled out the "coach's offer" card. And after a lengthy recruitment, Tranquill flipped ND's way.
"Well, then as it turns out, Notre Dame was just making up their minds, they were just, how do things play out, what do we need? When coach Kelly said,'The more I watched him the more I liked him, I'm gonna offer him. I don't know where he's going to play, but I'm the head coach, that's my choice,' he handled it extremely well. He handled the decommitting extremely well because he knew it was a decision ultimately which is what's best for him."
Dinan saw in Tranquill a number of intangibles. He saw the athletic gene passed from Tranquill's father, an outstanding baseball player in his day. He saw Tranquill grasp a leadership role his senior year at Carroll, and recalls the locker room talks the team would have that touched on a number of topics. And he saw it in how Tranquill managed his re-recruitment, when it became a two-team race between ND and Purdue.
"Some of those things that you speak of and talk about, some of those intangibles come from parents. And some of them are taught. But you don't teach 4.45. You don't teach 6-2, 230, 225 as he had to trim down to. You don't teach those things. So when you're big and can run and flip your hips and can catch a ball diving, one-handed, as I saw him do in high school over and over, those are God-given gifts," Dinan said.
"Somebody touched you with a little bit of extra something."