Versatility increases Notre Dame freshman Drue Tranquill's value

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Versatility was supposed to be an asset for Drue Tranquill during his football career at Notre Dame.

Little did anyone know it would play such a significant role so soon.

At 6-foot-2, and 225 pounds, the freshman from Fort Wayne (Carroll High School) had a body that could hold up on defense in big-time college football.

But where?

In the first two college games, Tranquill was more of a specialist – rush the passer, apply pressure. He played a linebacker position that was mostly concerned with causing havoc for the quarterback.

Then came an urgent need.

In the first half of the Purdue game, safety Max Redfield was disqualified after a targeting penalty. One play later, Redfield’s backup Nicky Baratti was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.

Suddenly, it was Tranquill’s time to shine.

“It’s my chance,” Tranquill said of his thought process at the time. “Next man in. Go out there and win a football game. I knew I’d have to go in there focused, put the pedal to the metal, and help my team win a football game.

“It’s something you prepare for your whole life. You come to Notre Dame for a reason: It’s not to sit on the bench, stand on the sidelines. You want to help this school win football games.

“When you prepare for something your whole life, when the moment comes, you can’t shy down. With the help of my guys, my teammates…

“You have to show up when the lights come on. It was a big moment for me; a big moment for my family.”

There was nothing shy about Tranquill’s performance. He added stability to the position. Tranquill had four tackles and helped limit the Boilermakers to just seven points while he was on the field.

“He did great,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “He doesn't know what he's doing, but he's awesome (laughter). He's running around there.

“I say that kiddingly, because he does know what he's doing. But we're trying to really keep it simple for him. He was such a locked in kid. We're able to do some things with him, and he's only been here, what, eight, 10 weeks. Where would we be without that young man? It's really pretty incredible.”

Heading into Saturday’s game against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Tranquill has nine tackles and a half-sack.

“It’s a lot of stuff,” Tranquill said. “The guys around me, (defensive coordinator) coach (Brian) VanGorder, (graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy), (fifth-year safety) Austin Collinsworth, (sophomore linebacker) Jaylon Smith; those guys coming around me during that transition made it easier to prepare and learn my (assignments).

“It’s a lot different playing (safety). You have a lot more reading (of the offense). You have to be more careful with your eyes. It’s a lot more tedious (than linebacker).

“I love getting down there (at linebacker), rushing around, stalking the quarterback. I do a lot of different things in that package.”

"Drue's just a highly-conditioned athlete and physically strong that he can compete," Kelly said. "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."

That’s OK with Tranquill, who came to South Bend figuring he’d be relegated to special teams this season.

“(On special teams), it’s fast and furious,” Tranquill said. “You’re flying around with your guys. It’s intense.

“I’ve learned about the speed of the game. You have to be better with your eyes (than high school); better recognizing what package (the offense) is in; better recognizing what (the offense) is running; down and distance situational football.

“There’s a lot more mental aspects going through your head (compared to high school).”

Those mental aspects can be staggering at times, even for a pretty smart guy who’s majoring in engineering.

“(Engineering) is extremely difficult,” Tranquill said. “I’m balancing 17 credit hours and football’s like a 40-hour a week job.

“It’s something where you have to have the help of others to get through.”

Which is harder, engineering or the defense devised by Brian VanGorder?

“Oh, engineering… C’mon,” Tranquill said laughing. “Coach VanGorder’s defense is hard, but, c’mon man.”

Then again, he doesn’t take an engineering test in front of 80,000 fans and a national television audience either.

Now that’s versatility.