September 19, 2015 was a trying day for Notre Dame safety Drue Tranquill. But before you join him and put that truncated Saturday afternoon – one comprised of four tackles including 2.5 stuffs and a pair of pass breakups in less than a half of action – completely in the rearview, it’s necessary to look back and understand the range of emotions the now fully recovered Irish safety experienced.
From start to finish:
-- The initial third-down stop of the day vs. Georgia Tech’s then vaunted triple option…his no-doubt best game as a collegian… a season-ending injury – number two in as many seasons in South Bend, this time suffered during an innocuous post-play celebration… the reality that his journey with Irish senior defenders and close friends was effectively over…the sobering reality that another six-to-eight months of intense rehabilitation was in the offing…the game ball courtesy his head coach…and more questions, the same nagging injury-related questions he faced last spring, summer, and fall --
“I felt my knee give way and kind of was screaming ‘No, not again!’ said Tranquill of the post-play leaping celebration with Joe Schmidt and the ensuing awkward landing that ended his sophomore season. “The physical pain was really bad right away and then it was the emotional pain of knowing I’d never play with guys like Matthias (Farley) and Joe again, plus the realization of knowing I was going to go through eight months of what I just went through again.
“Very difficult, yeah.”
RIGHT BACK AT IT
The feeling of “not again” was admittedly troublesome for Tranquill at first, though it didn’t linger. His goals, near and long-term, wouldn’t allow for that.
“Throughout my life I’ve never struggled with injuries, but in two-and-a-half years it’s been bang, bang, bang,” Tranquill said. “It’s been an incredible learning experience and I think it’s going to help my game in the end.
“At this point it’s just volume control,” he said of his spring status. “No limitations, just monitoring how I feel day-to-day. They’ve given me the go-ahead and I think we have one of the best staff’s in the country, Dr. Ratigan did an incredible job both times. My recovery has been great both times, I’ve had a great group of trainers helping me with my rehab. They’ve given me the go and I’m going to go 100 percent.”
And Tranquill wasted little time in doing so.
“He’s involved in our live tackling drills and our live 11-on-11 situations,” said head coach Brian Kelly Wednesday following Notre Dame’s fifth spring practice. “There was some question whether he’d be allowed to do that. That was answered today when we couldn’t get him off the field.”
Said Tranquill of the full-speed ahead approach: “We took the precautions on the front end, so going out there was just like, ‘Awesome, I’m back. Let’s play ball again.’”
JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES TO MASTER ONE?
Tranquill is able to make light of the situation in which he was injured last season because he quickly came to peace with it. A leaping post-play celebration is not the way any athlete wants to go out, though in Tranquill’s case, it was his natural reaction to a big play made – defending a potential Yellow Jackets touchdown pass late in the first half.
“I didn’t question myself. It’s something you do in practice every day with your teammates,” he said. “It would have been unnatural for me to resist jumping up with Joe there, so if anything, blame Joe, I guess (laughing).
“I’ll be more careful going forward. I just love playing the game and I like to play with high intensity.”
That intensity forged Tranquill a rookie season role ideally suited to his talents: dime linebacker. In many cases, he was a backfield spy, either on the quarterback or delayed releasing runner – effectively ‘See ball, Get ball.’ He expects more of the same in 2016, albeit with the additional role of starting strong safety.
“It was great competition with (Elijah) Shumate last year,” said Tranquill of the 2015 starting safety slot opposite Max Redfield. “We were going back and forth, but they could use me in a lot of different packages (last year) so I presume they’ll do that this year. My role at safety will take up more reps, so I’m excited about that, but I assume I’ll be in some different packages as well.”
Tranquill’s available presence in multiple packages next fall will directly coincide with the development of both sixth-year senior Avery Sebastian and the defense’s collection of young safeties behind him, the latter group already down a man with news Wednesday that redshirt-freshman Mykelti Williams is no longer part of the football program.
“I draw a lot of comparisons to centerfielder in baseball, my first love,” said Tranquill. “The guy in the back end who can kind of see everything and be the quarterback of the defense. That’s what I like to do, see everything transpire. I also like that I can be involved in the run game while also playing back in pass protection. You kind of get a little bit of everything at safety. It’s challenging, there’s a lot of stuff, especially in (Brian) VanGorder’s defense, but I like a challenge.”
Considering the trials he’s already faced, any challenges between the lines will be welcomed.
“The second time around it was hard, but I got over myself in about a day or two,” said Tranquill. “My time here at Notre Dame has been an incredible growing experience. Testing my faith, my character, my leadership. Whether it’s been in the classroom managing mechanical engineering or whether it’s been handling two ACL surgeries and rehab on that end. It’s been an incredible journey.
“I’d hate to say I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I think I’ve grown and learned so much. Obviously I’d have liked to without the injuries, but I trust in God’s plan and trust that if I want to impact people’s lives down the road, that the past two years have been such an incredible growing experience for me that I’ll be able to use that in some capacity.”
Until that time for Tranquill, it’s safety, first.