Notre Dame's Drue Tranquill accepts twisted path to progress
SOUTH BEND — Drue Tranquill is convinced that his long-term football future is as a safety.
Not that the Notre Dame sophomore hasn’t embraced the crooked path he’s on now that casts him in a wide variety of roles, from pass rush to pass coverage and almost everything in between.
Or the more jagged ones that preceded it.
Like the one that had the Fort Wayne, Ind., product convinced his calling was baseball up through his junior year at Carroll High School until recurring back injuries nudged him toward football.
“That’s why I came onto the recruiting scene with football kind of late,” said Tranquill an unheralded three-star recruit who didn’t garner a single scholarship offer outside the Midwest. “I never really pursued football.”
And the one that abridged his freshman season with a torn ACL just as he was getting comfortable at the top of the depth chart for the first time.
Tranquill actually garnered his first career interception in that 31-28 loss to Louisville Nov. 22 after he had suffered the eventual season-ending knee injury, which the sophomore still minimizes when he describes it as his “knee thing.”
“I came and got it checked out on the sidelines, and they’re like, ‘You just hyperextended it.’ ” Tranquill recalled. “So in my mind, I was good to go.
“I was going to push through it and do whatever I could to stay on the field. When I found out I tore it the next few days, I was very surprised, very devastated at first.”
Tranquill’s faith eventually reframed the setback as an opportunity. In fact, it’s the lens through which he seems to view and process every unexpected twist and maintain he’s right where he’s supposed to be.
“All things work for the good for those who trust in Him,” said Tranquill, who often sprinkles Bible verses into his Twitter game.
Before his 2014 season ended abruptly 11 games in, Tranquill’s 33 tackles, three pass breakups, one interception, one QB hurry, one tackle for loss and ND’s first blocked punt since 2010 put him squarely in the conversation as ND’s most impacting freshman.
Even though he doesn’t project in the 2015 starting lineup, Tranquill’s sophomore impact could be even more significant.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder moves all over the field in ND’s six-defensive back (dime) package. He’s sturdy enough to play the run, swift and savvy enough to get pressure on the passer and skilled enough to make an impact in pass coverage.
In fact, several college football analysts — including ESPN’s David Pollack and Mack Brown — believe big safeties with elite speed, such as Tranquill, are trending toward being premium athletes as defenses evolve to try to catch up with quick-snapping spread offenses.
“Guys that can cross train and guys that can do a lot of things on your defense are the type of athletes really required in todays’ game,” Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder concurred.
Tranquill could probably play some offense if Irish head coach Brian Kelly ever decided to dabble with his versatility to that extreme. The mechanical engineering major rushed for more than 1,400 yards, averaging more than 12 yards per carry, with 28 rushing TDs his senior year at Carroll.
On defense, he played outside linebacker for the large-school power. During the recruiting process, which included the Irish prying Tranquill out of Purdue’s recruiting class, ND head coach Brian Kelly wasn’t sure how to sell Tranquill on where he’d fit in the Irish defense.
“For me at the time, he (Kelly) has got so much experience in football, he’s going to put me in the best position to help this team, to help my future,” Tranquill said. “So I was really willing to do whatever it took in whatever he wanted me to do.”
Now Kelly is asking Tranquill to defer being a pure safety for one more season until roster turns over at that senior-laden position group after this season.
Tranquill’s buy-in is enhanced, he said, by his new position coach, former Irish All-America cornerback Todd Lyght.
“I think we have a more cohesive unit as a secondary,” Tranquill said of Lyght’s influence. “I definitely see that in the way we attack the offseason, both in the film room and the weight room.
“Coach Lyght is a national champion, a Super Bowl winner. He’s a champion in life. He knows what it takes to win. He’s just so invested in us and loves us. He’s willing to do whatever it take to help us win and succeed like he did.”