All a coach can ask of a player is that he sets his goals high, does everything in his power to achieve those goals, and then maximizes his abilities to the fullest.
Drue Tranquill didn’t need the arrival of Director of Football Performance Matt Balis to inspire him. The Notre Dame football program has always gotten nothing but the highest reach for achievement from the 6-foot-1½, 230-pounder out of Fort Wayne, Ind.
Now he wants to take it a step further.
“For me, the physical side of things will take care of themselves in the weight room with strength and speed,” said Tranquill, who has overcome torn ACLs in 2014 and 2015 to emerge as a captain and one of the most vocal leaders on the team.
“Understanding things and being able to communicate with other guys, that’s what I’m focusing on. Having a new defense, learning the entirety of it, learning conceptually what Coach (Mike) Elko is trying to do, that’s the best way to move forward as a defense.”
The shift from safety -- where he was frequently put on an island without a paddle -- to the Rover position, a hybrid outside linebacker/safety, is not new concept to Tranquill.
As a freshman in Brian VanGorder’s scheme, he frequently was asked to play in the box, come off the edge to pressure the quarterback, and use his physicality to gum up the opposing offense’s operation.
Back then, it was called the Joker position. The Rover position is similar, and thus, the transition is right in Tranquill’s wheelhouse, although he’ll continue to work at safety when the situation dictates.
“I don’t think it’s any different than freshman year when I was playing Joker and safety at the same time,” Tranquill said. “One of my strengths is having a high football intelligence. My ability to learn different positions has been advantageous for our program.”
Having a battering ram athlete accentuating his physicality is exactly what the Irish need at Rover, where red-shirt sophomore Asmar Bilal also has aligned this spring.
Tranquill was an impact player near the line of scrimmage as a freshman when he made 33 tackles and applied pressure off the edge in passing situations before suffering the first of two torn ACLs in the 11th game of the season against Louisville.
He returned in 2015, impacting the outcome of Notre Dame’s home victory over option-based Georgia Tech when he broke up a pass and made four tackles – including two for loss – in the 30-22 victory.
A celebration of a pass broken up led to the unfortunate second torn ACL, but Tranquill was back for the start of the 2016 season.
Tranquill finished second on the 2016 team in tackles with 79. But just two of those stops came behind the line of scrimmage as the need for his presence at safety out-weighed the luxury of playing him near the line of scrimmage.
Now, with some promising young safeties in the program – Nick Coleman, Jalen Elliott, Devin Studstill, Nicco Fertitta, Ashton White and Isaiah Robertson – Tranquill is more likely to apply his skills up front.
“It really depends on the situation, practice to practice, what we’re working on,” Tranquill said. “The Rover is a hybrid safety/linebacker position. You’re asked to defend the run and you have to know the linebacker fits when you slide in the box.
“You have to know the safeties coverage when you’re out playing curl-flat-curl, seam-flat, all that different stuff. It’s a great position. It provides a great opportunity for me to do a lot of different things within the framework of this defense.
You’re asked to do a lot. It’s an opportunity to make a lot of plays.”
Tranquill is a self-aware individual. He has never hesitated to discuss his assets and shortcomings at safety.
“It depends on what you’re asking me to do at safety,” Tranquill said. “If you’re asking me to play off the hash, or drop into the half field, I’m 230 pounds, so it’s probably not my best asset.
“But if you’re asking me to drop down, play curl-flat, play outside hook, a Kam Chancellor-type (role), I can do that just fine. Rover allows me to do some of those things I would do dropping down to the safety position.”
Tranquill has never felt better equipped to multi-task and provide a physical presence to the Irish defensive front than he does now with a “body by Balis.”
“Our off-season training with Coach Balis has provided a huge boost in my personal game,” Tranquill said. “I’m up to 230 now and dropped in body fat, the lowest it’s ever been. It’s just been incredible. It’s been a really positive experience. I feel a lot stronger, faster and quicker.”
Tranquill describes the off-season conditioning under Balis in military terms.
“I’m sure you guys are familiar with Camp Kelly…It’s like that every day,” Tranquill said. “(Balis) trains us like we’re Navy Seals. It’s brutal, but it brings you together. It not only forms the individual, it forms the whole and brings the team together.”
No one is better at bringing the team together than Tranquill who – with two years of eligibility remaining – is a sure-fire two-time captain for the Irish in 2017-18.
“There were a lot of times last year when guys were coming in here for practice and seeing this as a job and something they had to get through,” Tranquill said. “You’re seeing a lot of guys get back to their roots, their childhood dreams, of playing football at Notre Dame. Guys are loving what they’re doing.
“Football is not now seen as a job. Now I’m back to playing football. I’m back to doing what I love to do.”