By: Phil Houk of Fighting Irish Preview
About 15 years ago, “America’s Foremost Authority”, my partner on the radio show Fighting Irish Preview, Tim Prister, edited a book called What It Means to be Fighting Irish. In it Tim interviewed dozens of former Notre Dame players from John Lujack to Joe Montana to Rocket Ismail. Each player told his own story about “what it means to be Fighting Irish.”
This weekend a group of Fighting Irish seniors, all with unique stories about “What It Means to Be Fighting Irish”, play their final game on the hallowed ground of Notre Dame Stadium, and it seems appropriate to focus on one in particular: two time Captain, Drue Tranquill.
You see, Drue Tranquill is a shining example of what it means to be “Fighting Irish”.
On November 19, 2013 Drue Tranquill, out of Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, committed to play football at Notre Dame. Rated as a bit of a “tweener”, many thought of him as a safety, Notre Dame indicated they saw him eventually as a linebacker. But virtually everyone saw him as something of a project before he would be a contributor at the collegiate level, everyone that is, except Drue.
On the day Tranquill reported for Fall camp in 2014, the buzz I heard was immediate, “sources” were saying that among a group made up of guys like Nyles Morgan, Quenton Nelson and Deshone Kizer—Drue Tranquill clearly stood out for having arrived in tremendous condition. Drue apparently was not interested in being anyone’s project.
In his freshman season as the Irish reeled off 6 straight wins to start the year Drue played in 11 games and had 3 starts. His season ended against Louisville. While returning an intercepted pass in the first half of the game, he went down with an injury, and the next day it was learned that he had torn the ACL in his right knee. Incredibly he had gone on to play the second half of that game with the serious injury.
Out for the rest of the year, Tranquill set the standard with his dogged approach to recovery and rehab. As his sophomore year approached it became obvious that he would be back and better than ever. The Irish again came out of the gate fast and Drue Tranquill was part of the reason.
In the 3rd game of the 2015 season the Irish were ranked 11th and their opponent, Georgia Tech was number 14. Tranquill through 2 quarters performed brilliantly: 4 tackles, 2 for loss and a pass break up just before halftime. In celebration of the pass break up, Tranquill leaped to celebrate with a high five of a teammate, when he came down, disaster struck. He had torn the ACL in his other knee.
After the game he was awarded the game ball in the locker room, check out the video of Brian Kelly awarding him the game ball, be prepared to shed a tear.
Most of his sophomore season lost, Tranquill again set a standard for recovery and rehab. An astonished Brian Kelly in the Spring of 2016 commented that Drue attacked rehab “like no other player we’ve had here in quite some time.” According to Tranquill his drive and dedication was nothing special. When asked about it he said, “When football is taken away from you, you’re willing to do anything to get it back.” The typical 6-9 month rehab process took him about 2 ½ months.
Team wise 2016 was a long one for the Irish, but Drue Tranquill played a full schedule at a very high level, never mind that he was playing on two knees that had been surgically repaired in the prior 10 months. Tranquill finished the 2016 season with 79 tackles good for 2nd on the team. And in 2017 his game was even stronger, moving to the Rover position in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme, the Irish rolled to 10 victories and Tranquill was spectacular, notching 85 tackles including 10 for loss.
After this great season most observers saw him heading to the NFL, he had proven his mettle at the collegiate level, he had earned a Mechanical Engineering degree and he even had “gotten the girl”. During the summer of 2018 he married his high school sweetheart. But after the blowout loss to Miami in November of 2017 when the Irish had risen to #3 in the national rankings, he knew there was still work to be done. So at the season ending banquet Echos, he announced that he would be returning for a 5th season by saying, “I felt I owed it to this team to finish what I started.”
The 2018 season started with a great victory over rival Michigan and the Irish have now run their record to 9-0. Indeed finishing what he started now seems to be within Drue Tranquill’s grasp. The fact that as he was playing through a broken bone in his hand suffered against Stanford in the 5th game of the season (that’s right, ANOTHER serious injury), seemed for Tranquill to be nothing more than a speed bump.
Through 7 games, Tranquill, led the Irish in tackles and had settled into his new position, buck linebacker, his 3rd position in his college career, quite well. But then this year’s Navy game happened and suddenly Drue Tranquill was laying on the turf in pain and had to be taken off the field on a cart. Millions of Notre Dame fans held their breath and millions of those fans no doubt, feared, like I did, the worst. The replay of the injury which showed Drue’s leg bent at an awkward angle made me cringe.
How could this be happening to this Fighting Irish warrior again?
The day after the Navy game the news was not great, but was not as bad as feared. Drue had a high ankle sprain. High ankle sprains are tricky injuries and can take weeks to heal. But Drue Tranquill was planning on returning to football in less than a week. During the run up to last week’s game as Tranquill took advantage of every moment to rehab his ankle, he was named a Campbell Trophy semi-finalist, a national award recognizing him for his outstanding combination of academics, athletics and community service…….just another bit of evidence that this young man is special.
Then, last Saturday against Northwestern, Tranquill took on the role of Superman.
He suited up and played a critical role for the Irish. He played in passing situations and down the stretch of the game when the Irish needed a stop. He visibly limped off the field at halftime but played effectively and totaled 5 important tackles. To say that his ability to return to the field of play so soon after such a significant injury is amazing, would be a huge understatement.
Drue Tranquill’s record of success, drive to succeed, ability to lead his team by example and his obvious devotion to the process and love of his teammates, have been beyond impressive.
These things surely qualify him for the highest possible esteem as he enters the Notre Dame Stadium field of play for the last time this weekend.
Indeed, Drue Tranquill knows what it means to be Fighting Irish.