LB Drue Tranquill leaving his mark on 'special' Notre Dame season
SOUTH BEND — Drue Tranquill would prefer his teammates and coaches answers questions about his legacy.
The fifth-year linebacker was asked plenty of big-picture questions Saturday night after Notre Dame’s 42-13 victory over Florida State.
The win meant Tranquill would finish his career in South Bend with an undefeated 6-0 record at home in his final season. It also meant this Irish team, No. 3 in the country and 10-0, would be the first to win at least 10 games in back-to-back seasons since 1993. That was before Tranquill born.
What Tranquill hopes that means is that he will leave the program in better shape than it was when he joined it out of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Carroll High in 2014.
“Two years ago after going through that brutal (4-8) season, we all made a choice of that's not the standard here at Notre Dame,” Tranquill said. “As recruits, everybody talks about the tradition of Notre Dame. Why'd you chose Notre Dame? The tradition. The tradition.
“Today is tomorrow's history. It's time to start building that tradition back here at Notre Dame. We're all bought into that as a group."
Tranquill compels his teammates to have that commitment. The list of injuries he’s sustained throughout his career look more like the résumé of a player destined for a medical retirement than one of a team’s top defenders. He’s had ACL surgeries on both of his knees. This season alone, Tranquill has dealt with a broken metacarpal in his left hand and a high-ankle sprain on his right leg.
There’s no questioning Tranquill’s leadership in his second season as a captain.
“Drue is who we follow,” said junior defensive end Daelin Hayes. “When we go out, that's a quarterback. Him and (linebacker) Te'von (Coney), they run our defense.”
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Tranquill finished Saturday’s game with seven tackles and a half sack, two weeks after a suffering his ankle injury against Navy. A week after being limited to playing mostly on third downs at Northwestern, Tranquill returned to a full-time role.
“Drue is a guy who's going to do everything the right way, no matter the circumstance,” Hayes said. ”A guy who had a sprained ankle, a high-ankle sprain, a hand, whatever. All that stuff, it's huge. To see a guy come out and battle through it, it really inspires you to really go out and give everything you have for your brothers."
The ankle injury didn’t seem to limit Tranquill much against Florida State. He left the game for one play in the third quarter after combining for a tackle on second-and-goal at the 1-yard line. He returned one play later to complete a fourth-and-goal stop.
“It's crazy what the human body can do,” Tranquill said. “God's design is just miraculous. To be able to go through the knees and come back, but even more so to have a high ankle sprain two weeks ago and to be able to come and play on my Senior Night was really special."
Tranquill was the last of Notre Dame’s seniors to be introduced to the Notre Dame Stadium crowd before Saturday’s game. He received one of the loudest roars as he met his parents and wife on the field.
He was also one of the last seniors to leave the field after the game. Both he and punter Tyler Newsome lingered on the field well after the game and his postgame interview. Tranquill was soaking in another mission accomplished this season.
"It was our second goal this year was to protect our house,” Tranquill said. “This past summer we ran every stair in it and wove ourselves into it. To complete that goal on Senior Night with such a special group of guys, it means a lot."
Eleven months ago, Tranquill shared with his teammates at the annual awards show that he would be returning for a fifth season. That return meant a position switch from rover to inside linebacker. But the return was always about much more than better preparing himself for a chance to play in the NFL.
Tranquill was coming back for a season like this.
"It was something, honestly, I knew in my heart,” Tranquill said. “When I decided to come back, I had this peace of mind, peace of heart that we had something special. We all internally knew how good this team was. It was just a matter of showing the outside world.”
Now the Irish are almost certainly two wins away from a trip to the College Football Playoff.
"It is different than any team I've ever been a part of,” Tranquill said. “I was telling them out there, it just feels special. The team feels special. The chemistry, the camaraderie, the trust in one another.”
Whether Tranquill wants to claim that as part of his legacy or not, his fingerprints are all over it.
“If I can leave my teammates better versions of themselves and leave this place better than I found it,” Tranquill said, “I'm doing what my parents taught me growing up.”