Drue Tranquill keeping the faith as Notre Dame football captain
SOUTH BEND — At 12 years old, Drue Tranquill thought the back of a poster hanging in his bedroom was the proper place for a prayer.
The goals of the Notre Dame linebacker have long been rooted in his faith.
“Lord, I trust you, the plans you have for me. If you give me the platform so I can influence others, I’ll give it all back to you in full,” wrote the 12-year-old Tranquill.
The ND graduate student recalled that inscription Tuesday after being named the 23rd two-time captain in Notre Dame football history. He stood at the lectern taking questions from reporters in a black hooded sweatshirt with the words “TRUST JESUS” in large white type.
“I have to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ,” Tranquill said. “It’s been cool to kind of see that come to fruition.”
Tranquill’s path to a fifth season at Notre Dame has had its obstacles. He tore the ACL in his left knee against Louisville in November of his freshman season. Ten months later, he tore the ACL in his right knee against Georgia Tech.
But the 6-foot-2, 233-pound product of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Carroll High played in all 25 games in his junior and senior seasons to become a staple in the improving Irish defense. Tranquill could have decided to pursue a professional career in either football or engineering to start the year.
His injury history and plan to marry his fiancée in July would have been easy justifications to move forward with his life. Yet Tranquill found more he wanted to accomplish at Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame coaching staff pitched the idea of a position switch, from rover to weakside linebacker, to better prepare him for the NFL.
“I knew in my mind that I need development at that position,” Tranquill said. “It was kind of a general understanding. They had gotten feedback from NFL teams. I had obviously gotten feedback from NFL teams. We all understood that this is what I need to develop at.
“It was a decision where do I just want to go and get that development in the league or do I want to come back and develop under (defensive coordinator and linebackers) coach (Clark Lea)? The best decision for me was to come back and develop under coach Lea.”
Tranquill made a significant impact on Notre Dame’s defense last season. He finished third on the team in tackles with 85 and second in tackles for a loss with 10.5. He also tallied three fumble recoveries, 1.5 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble.
Playing at rover, Tranquill was allowed to operate in open space and on the edges of the defense. At weakside linebacker, known as the "buck" in Notre Dame’s scheme, Tranquill will be dealing with much more traffic.
“Probably the biggest thing is being closer to the line and closer to the core of the action,” Tranquill said. “You really have to be able to expand your vision and see multiple things happening at once. Be able to read your key in the pass game but also see pullers and adjust on the fly.
“Being an engineer and seeing things more through tunnel vision, it’s going to be a challenge in terms of being able to expand my vision and see those other keys. It’s something that I really think’s going to benefit my game and my ability to see defense as a whole.”
Spending spring practice learning a new position is old hat for Tranquill at this point. Tranquill started his Irish career as a safety and has slowly moved closer to the line of scrimmage.
“It can be frustrating at times, because you’d like to be farther along in your development than you are,” Tranquill said, “but I’ve learned something from each position — whether it’s the coverage side of things from safety, whether it’s doing both at rover or whether it’s seeing keys in the box and seeing other keys in run reads at buck. All of them will contribute to help me be a more holistic player and have a better understanding of football as a whole.”
What Tranquill won’t have to learn is how to lead as captain. He shared the role with six other players in the 2017 season. In 2018, Tranquill is joined by center Sam Mustipher and punter Tyler Newsome in the captain role. A fourth captain will be named at the conclusion of spring practice.
“Being elected captain last year and this year, it's the biggest honor of my life thus far,” Tranquill said. “To be viewed from your teammates like that, it speaks a lot, humbles me and makes me feel really good.
“With that obviously comes a lot of responsibility. I recognize that. It's a lot of work. I saw that last year. I'm excited to take on this challenge with Tyler and Sam. Ultimately, we're part of the team, and we're honored to represent our team and represent the University of Notre Dame.”
By choosing to return, Tranquill has been given more opportunities at Notre Dame. As promised, Tranquill has given it all back in full.
“Honestly, I just love this team so much, love this university and the opportunity to play. There’s just something special about college football,” Tranquill said. “You can’t necessarily put your finger on it until you’ve actually experienced it and played it, but in my heart I knew I wanted to be a part of this thing for one more year and finish what we started.”