Forget the torn ACL that Drue Tranquill played on for the second half of the Louisville game.
Before that November kickoff, the safety from Fort Wayne, Ind., had already made some history. Tranquill started three times as a freshman, the most by any first-year safety in more than a decade. The only freshman defensive backs to start more than Tranquill in their first seasons during that run were KeiVarae Russell (13) and Robert Blanton (4), both cornerbacks.
Tranquill is next in Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z series, with his full recovery from that ACL tear critical to Notre Dame’s depth within the secondary.
Tranquill repeats his freshman season but adds some efficiency to it. Assuming Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate really do have Brian VanGorder’s defense down, Tranquill can be the first safety off the bench, even with fifth-year transfer Avery Sebastian on campus. Tranquill posted 33 tackles last season and factored into just about every special teams unit. A repeat of that production would be just fine by Brian Kelly. It would mean Redfield and Shumate finally clicked, Tranquill’s knee fully recovered from the November ACL tear and everybody stayed healthy at the back of the defense.
Tranquill’s knee doesn’t come all the way back until late in the season, putting tremendous pressure on starters Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate while also robbing Notre Dame’s special teams of a staple. If Tranquill can’t go full speed, fifth-year senior Avery Sebastian, who has had his own injury issues, will play plenty on defense. Without Tranquill on special teams, freshmen Nicco Fertitta and Mykelti Williams will likely be forced into action immediately, maybe as early as the opening kickoff against Texas. Tranquill’s value is real on both defense and special teams, assisting in a way few players can.
Robert Blanton fits in performance if not personality. After sitting out the opener of his freshman season, Blanton factored into both the defense and special teams the rest of the way, starting four games, making 33 tackles and picking off two passes. Tranquill hit that tackle total exactly and made one pick while starting three games. Blanton would be an integral part of Notre Dame’s defense for the rest of his career, although not always in a starting capacity. It looks like Tranquill is trending that way too.
Scout ranked Tranquill the highest of all four services as a four-star at No. 171 overall, although he was slotted as an outside linebacker, ranked No. 14 at that position. The 247 network put Tranquill as a four-star at No. 277 overall, while Rivals and ESPN both had him in the three-star category. ESPN was the lowest of the four services, ranking Tranquill as the nation’s No. 43 safety. While one season isn’t enough to prove any ranking right or wrong, Tranquill is trending toward a multi-year starting career, which doesn’t back up the “project” tag many applied to him when he flipped from Purdue to Notre Dame during his senior year.
Louisville. No other candidates need apply. Not only did Tranquill post five tackles and his first interception, he played the second half with a torn ACL.
“Drue Tranquill is coming back from the ACL but he's so far ahead right now … I think he hit 315 pounds on his back yesterday, full squatting at two-and-a-half months. So that’s crazy.” – Brian Kelly in February