Drue Tranquill counts blessings, not setbacks at Notre Dame

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Drue Tranquill won’t forget the pain of trying to regain flexibility in his knees.

After working himself back from ACL surgeries on his left and right knees the last two seasons, the junior safety at Notre Dame could probably guide someone through the rehabilitation process.

It’s the early stages post-surgery — and one particular stretch — that Tranquill despised the most. Tranquill would lay on his stomach while a trainer would grab the ankle of his injured leg and push Tranquill’s heel to his butt. Describing it alone puts pain on his face.

“It just made me want to jump off the table,” Tranquill said. “That’s one of the worst things, getting your range of motion back. It’s one of the most important things about the rehab process but one of the most painful.”

The discouragement that comes with consecutive season-ending injuries could wreck an athlete. Instead, Tranquill sees the seasons that are still ahead of him. His knees have healed and there is still football left to be played.

“More than anything it’s just given me perspective. Perspective on life that I have the opportunity to come back and play,” Tranquill said. “A lot of times people aren’t afforded that opportunity in life whether they’re born with a certain issue, diagnosed with cancer or a chronic disease. They don’t have the opportunities that I have in life. It was just a momentary trouble and it’s something I’ve learned a lot from.”

Each injury has halted Tranquill’s progress in the middle of his ascension as a valuable member of Notre Dame’s defense. In 2014, Tranquill started three of his last four games before injuring his left knee against Louisville. He totaled 13 tackles in the three previous games and tallied five tackles and one interception defending the Cardinals.

Last season, Tranquill was flying all over the field, helping the Irish shut down Georgia Tech’s option attack. But when he went to celebrate a pass breakup with linebacker Joe Schmidt in the second quarter, his right knee crumbled.

Tranquill may have missed 12 games the last two years, but in his mind, he never really left the football field.

“I never took a break from the game. I was always either growing in it mentally or growing in it physically,” Tranquill said. “When I was off the field with the ACLs, the game never stopped for me. I was teaching young guys. I was learning and meeting with coaches. The game really never stopped. It was a mindset of ‘I’m limited in this area so I’m going to grow in this area.’ That’s helped me stay smooth in my transition back.”

Now more than ever, Notre Dame’s defense needs Tranquill’s glimpses of brilliance to last for an entire season. Stability at safety will be required with Tranquill likely lining up next to Max Redfield, who has had a roller coaster career of his own.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Tranquill has put himself in a position to handle the demands of the position — helping the front seven stop the run and preventing big plays in the passing game.

“Physically, I’m right back where I was if not more dominant,” Tranquill said. “The mental part of the game makes me more dominant. I’m able to anticipate things more quickly and really make reads faster. That part helps me in my quickness and my transition — areas that I might have been struggling with my freshman year.”

Tranquill, a Fort Wayne native, has always been outwardly spiritual. His Twitter timeline is full of Bible verses and inspirational quotes. After Saturday’s practice in Culver, Tranquill told his teammates that he would lead a prayer circle if anyone wanted to join him. Many followed as he offered a prayer for a slain former teammate.

“It’s something we’ve always done,'' he said. "Typically, it’s anywhere from 5 to 15 guys, but I think we had 50-60 guys out there (Saturday) which was incredible to see. We were able to pray for Greg Bryant and his family and remember him and just pray for the awesome opportunity to be out here.”

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame’s Drue Tranquill (23) celebrates a big stop during the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN