LB Drue Tranquill's toughness contagious for Notre Dame

Staff reports
ND Insider

His teammates recognize the talent.

What they’ll always remember is the commitment — to them.

That’s what they witness in the daily Drue Tranquill, a married mechanical engineering student fighting off injuries and offensive linemen like gnats.


He took a pass on the easy way out a long time ago.

At every point this magical 11-0 season, despite the injuries and demands, Notre Dame’s buck linebacker has found a way to help, to lead and, ultimately, to excel.

His left hand, although still wrapped in a protective cast after breaking it in a late-September game against Stanford, presents no issues. The once fractured metacarpal bone healed before last week’s Syracuse game. But Tranquill’s ankle? It has served as nothing but a painful nuisance since the Oct. 27 injury at Navy.

Yet the captain and grad student has played on. And played well.

And will be on the field when the Irish try to complete a perfect regular season against Southern Cal (5-6) Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Perhaps recovering from torn ACLs within 10 months of each other hardened Tranquill for the rigors of recovery.

The ankle’s intermittent outbursts create brief moments of agony, sidelining Tranquill — briefly — a few times.

Junior cornerback Julian Love is in awe, considering Tranquill’s schedule. He notices Tranquill arriving early and departing late — sometimes by three or four hours — to receive treatment at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex on ND’s campus.

“I asked him, ‘Do you have class?’ I know he gets treatment three or four times per day,” Love said. “He’s always at the (training facility). That just shows the dedication.”

“I spend my whole day concentrating on it,” Tranquill said. “It is what I have to do to be on the field on Saturdays. Got to do what I’ve got to do.”

Aggravating the ankle twice last week did not hinder Tranquill from being productive against Syracuse. His seven tackles, 2.5 TFLs and pair of sacks helped limit the high-octane Orange offense to a mere 234 total yards in ND’s 36-3 triumph.

Tranquill said his ankle is stable but activity on it requires pain tolerance. The medical staff tasks Tranquill with a litany of anti-inflammatory practices. Strengthening and exercising mobility and range of motion are imperative for Tranquill to return to normalcy.

He prefers to avoid any painkillers — “I don’t really want to put myself in a situation where I can’t feel something that my body is trying to tell me,” he says, — so it’s a mind over pain process.

“Everything he eats, his diet, everything he does is very clean and very natural,’’ Love said. “I’ve never seen him take or ask for Advil.”

Strengthening and exercising mobility and range of motion are imperative for Tranquill to return to normalcy.

But it takes considerable extra time and effort.

“I think what people don’t recognize more than anything else is that his growth as a teammate from last year to this year has been amazing,” head coach Brian Kelly said of Tranquill. “I point out simply this. He’s a captain, a leader, but he was hard to follow in a sense because the bar for him is so high, and almost sometimes for other players it’s hard to imagine being Drue Tranquill. A 4.0 engineering student, a great player, a great citizen, great in the community, spiritually. He was almost too hard to imagine and almost too hard to mirror.

“This year he’s still that, but he’s so close to his teammates because I think just the believability of who he is on a day-to-day basis. They see the same guy every day. He comes in, he works out, he trains, he fights through injuries. They don’t see all those other things. They see a guy that is so committed to being successful that they can mirror that. What he’s meant to our team this year, even though his status hasn’t changed in a sense in terms of being a captain, he’s impacted our team so much differently.”

Kelly and ND’s staff trust Tranquill’s discretion, as he dictates how much he participates. The senior captain powered through Northwestern, opting to play mostly in pivotal situations and third downs. While ND’s coaches did not prompt the substitution against Florida State, backup Jordan Genmark-Heath understood when Tranquill wanted to return for a fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line.

Two plays before, Tranquill winced after tackling FSU running back Jacques Patrick short of the goal line. When linebacker Te’von Coney collided with him against Syracuse, Tranquill dropped again but missed a mere three plays before returning for the following series.

Tranquill aggravated his ankle again in the fourth quarter, but with ND’s commanding 29-0 lead, he did not reenter the game.

“He has his priorities in line,” Coney said. “You can trust that he’s getting it all done. If it is him staying up late or getting up really early to get (rehabbing) done, you best believe he’s going to get it all done. I have no worries in that guy. He’s going to take care of his business.”

The hours spent toward rehabbing paid off. He’s garnering more action each game and is nearing full recovery.

“It is getting better every week,” Tranquill said. “I felt better against Syracuse than I did against Florida State, and it felt better against Florida State than it did against Northwestern. It is progressing, definitely.”

Ask any Irish coach or player, and they will say Tranquill ranks among ND’s toughest players.

His battling through the rehab process has been contagious.

“I think that has carried on through all of us,” Love said. “People don’t really do that. We are kind of like, ‘Alright, we are hurting now, but we are going to grind through it because it could be worse.’ Drue has instilled that toughness in all of us.”

Notre Dame’s Drue Tranquill points and smiles to people in the stands during last Saturdays at Yankee Stadium in New York City. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame’s trainers tend to Irish linebacker Drue Tranquill during the 42-13 victory over Florida State.