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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Fifth-year senior linebacker Drue Tanquill, a Carroll graduate, decided to return to Notre Dame this season because he wanted to be part of a national championship team.

Saturday, December 29, 2018 1:00 am

IMPACT PLAYER

Tranquill drives Irish success

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

ARLINGTON, Texas – Drue Tranquill wouldn't take no for an answer.

In the summer of 2013, as the Carroll safety was entering his senior year in high school, Notre Dame had repeatedly declined to offer him a football scholarship. He committed to Purdue in July of that year, but his desire to play for the Irish didn't go away.

Finally, when Tranquill stood out at a late-summer camp, coach Brian Kelly noticed.

“He was going to go to Purdue because we were so smart that we didn't recruit him,” Kelly said, sarcastically, in recalling Tranquill's recruitment. “And then I saw him in our one-day camp. And I told our staff, 'We're taking Drue Tranquill.'

“Because, when he came to this camp, he had been told no by Notre Dame five times, and he still came to this camp and he was the best player at this camp. And in so many other ways, right? The way he competed, every drill, didn't take any time off. I didn't know we were going to play him at any position; I just needed him on our football team.”

More than five years later, that snap decision from Kelly has turned into one of the best he has made in his time at Notre Dame. Tranquill is one of the key pieces on a defense that has led Notre Dame to an undefeated season and a College Football Playoff matchup today against Clemson in the Cotton Bowl.

The 23-year-old Fort Wayne native racked up 75 tackles this season, including 91/2 for loss, while registering a career-high 31/2 sacks and some of the most bone-jarring hits of the year.

But, as Kelly will be the first to say, Tranquill's impact on the program has been about more than his play on the field. He's just the 23rd two-time captain in Irish history and this year earned the Wuerffel Trophy as the player who best combines play on the field with community service and academic achievement.

“(Tranquill) is somebody that is impacting how things go in the training room, how things are going in the meal room, on the road, how people are handling rooming assignments,” Kelly said. “I mean, just having a 11th coach, if you will.

“So he will be irreplaceable as it relates to having a sergeant, that passes on all those orders and makes sure they get done. As you can tell, I speak from my heart with Drue because he meant so much to our football team this year and he'll be sorely missed.”

When Tranquill decided to return for a fifth season with the Irish, he had one goal: win a national championship. Now the Irish are two wins away from completing that journey. What follows are some of the linebacker's thoughts before the biggest game of his Irish career.

Answers have been edited for space.

Q: You said before the season competing for a national championship should be the standard at Notre Dame. Has this season made it the standard again?

Tranquill: “We're in the position to do it. Guys have worked so hard. We've been at this process since January and it's all culminating here at the end of the year. It's the standard here at Notre Dame, it's what we're about. We play for national championships and we've got a chance to do that (today).”

Q: If you could talk to 18-year-old Drue when he was a senior at Carroll, what would you tell him?

Tranquill: “I would tell him to go into (Notre Dame) with no entitlement. To expect things to be hard, that hard times make you stronger. And at any moment in life, anything can be taken away from you, whether that's your ability to play the game, or a close family member or an opportunity in the classroom. Those are all things I've learned in my career at Notre Dame.”

Q: What's it like to know a lot of your hard work could pay off this week?

Tranquill: “It's special. I came back with a goal to win a national championship. A year ago I couldn't have said, 'Yeah, we're going to be in this position in December.' I couldn't have drawn it up any better to be in this position and have a chance. I'm just grateful to have this opportunity and you're going to have to peel me off this field on Saturday before I go out with a loss. That's the mindset of a lot of our guys.”

Q: What is your favorite moment with your teammates at Notre Dame?

Tranquill: “I don't think there's one specific moment I can point out. There's just so many fun times. We were just having a heck of a time before (interviews), just laughing, carrying on, whether it's dancing, playing a game together, it's something new every day.”

Q: What do you think your impact is on the Fort Wayne community?

Tranquill: “That'd be a question for the Fort Wayne community. My family sends me encouraging stuff people around the community have said, so I certainly appreciate all of that, all the prayers and kind words that have come my way has inspired me. It's helped me in the tough times to keep going. To know that I have people looking up to me, and to know that I'm inspiring people, it's quite an honor to be able to do that. I don't take it lightly. The story's still being written and we've got a big chapter to write (today).”

dsinn@jg.net