Notre Dame rover Drue Tranquill searching for perfect ending to bounce-back season

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Drue Tranquill writes in a journal every day.

Since Notre Dame’s senior rover and defensive captain picked up the practice prior to his freshman season in South Bend, imagine all of the unexpected plot points that have shaped his comeback story. Two ACL tears. Two rehabs. Two defensive coordinators. Two positions.

The 6-foot-2, 231-pound senior’s story needs an ending. He hasn’t finished it yet.

But it’s already got a twist.

“I mean, it means a lot,” Tranquill said of No. 9 Notre Dame’s 9-2 season that followed a 4-8 showing in 2016. “I don’t know that I’m in a state of reflection yet to really understand how much it means to me, because we’ve got to beat Stanford this week, and that’s our mindset, and that’s my mindset. I think after this game we’ll have obviously a little time to reflect on the season it has been.

“But it means a lot to be in the position we are now. We weren’t in that position last year, and so to be able to bounce back my senior year and just see the guys buy into something special and make it something special and work so hard for something, we’ve been going at this thing now 11 months, and it seems like it’s flown by.

“But when you really sit back and think about it, it was a lot of hard work. When you start counting on your hands the number of tough workouts, the number of grueling team runs, the number of times where you just wanted to fall over and curl up in a ball, it really makes you respect the work we’ve put in to get to this point.”

Turns out, Tranquill doesn’t need to count on his hands the hurdles that separate where he’s been and where he’s going.

Instead, he flips the pages.

“I really think it’s great to be able to look back at especially some of the harder times in my time here, whether it was my injuries, and look at what my mental state was, how I was on a day-to-day basis and how I was able to bounce back from things,” Tranquill said. “Any time I encounter difficulty I can go back and see how I handled it and handle it in a similar way.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that in the early hours of a Sunday morning, on the quiet plane ride that followed a 41-8 defeat at Miami on Nov. 11, Tranquill wrote in his journal.

A week later, the Fort Wayne native contributed eight tackles and two tackles for loss in a Senior Day victory over Navy.

In other words, he handled it.

“He’s so excited about winning this last game at home, and with all that’s going on in his life, it’s just so satisfying to see those things,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said of Tranquill after the game. “You may not get him off the field tonight. They may have to leave the lights on.”

It’s unclear whether the 24-17 victory over Navy was also Tranquill’s final win inside Notre Dame Stadium. The senior has yet to decide whether to return for a fifth season in 2018.

There’s no doubt, however, that this season will be hard to top. After transitioning from strong safety to defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s hybrid rover position this offseason, Tranquill ranks third on the team with 70 tackles to go along with 8.5 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and an interception.

That’s what all the rehabs, grueling team runs and offseason workouts were for.

The next step, of course, is to beat No. 20 Stanford (8-3) in Palo Alto, Calif., for the first time since 2007, then win a New Year’s Six bowl game for the first time since 1993-94.

Now, that would be a storybook ending.

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mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Drue Tranquill (23) smiles and pumps his fist to fans as he exits the field following Notre Dame's 24-17 win over Navy in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN