Always working: Drue Tranquill focuses on growth in all aspects of life
Benjamin Padanilam | Friday, November 17, 2017
Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 29 edition of The Observer.
In one sense, the notion of perfection is one of completeness. In another sense, it describes the flawless exemplar.
But if you put both together? Well, it’s probably not a bad way to describe senior Drue Tranquill.
The list of accolades and qualities speaks for itself: a Notre Dame captain who juggles academic All-American status as a mechanical engineer, an engagement, leadership within the South Bend community and a purpose inspired by the life of Jesus Christ.
Just about everyone would have no problem saying such a person is as close to perfect as you can get.
Well, everyone except Tranquill.
“[I’m] just a constant work in progress, trying to get better each and every day and approaching it with a sense of humility,” Tranquill said. “That there’s always room to grow is kind of where I’m at and where I’ll continue to be.”
On the field, that dedication to progress has been more evident. Perhaps that’s because his career took some time to get going in the first place, as injuries his freshman and sophomore year kept him off the field for a combined 12 games.
The first came against Louisville on Nov. 22, 2014. While diving to make a tackle, he tore his ACL in his left leg, ending his freshman season and beginning a long road to recovery.
“One of the biggest things it taught me was grit and the ability to overcome and handle adversity,” Tranquill said of the injury. “It made me realize how blessed I am and how fortunate I am in life, because I have so many great people in support around me. Whether it’s Notre Dame, my teammates, my coaches, the staff inside the Gug just helping me, my family and friends — just to feel that support and know that they’re behind me through the ups and downs.”
And shortly after completing that lengthy process, Tranquill would suffer another setback. Just 10 months after tearing his left ACL, Tranquill tore the same ligament in his right leg while celebrating a pass breakup in the endzone against Georgia Tech. Unlike the first time, however, he’d be away from the field much longer, missing all but three games of his sophomore season.
“The emotional battle initially was more difficult, in a sense that I had just worked so hard to come back from something that’s extremely devastating in our sport — any sport for that matter,” Tranquill said. “So the initial emotional shock was very difficult, but afterwards it was something I was familiar with. I was familiar with the process, I was familiar with what it would take to get back. So having that experience definitely helped the second time around.”
Fortunately for Tranquill, he had several people in his life to help him overcome that emotional shock on both occasions.
“Joe Schmidt the first time around, we both — I had my left ACL, he had his ankle. And then Shaun Crawford — when I had my right ACL, he had an ACL as well,” he said. “Having that competition kind of fueling our rehab was good.
“But the biggest person I relied on was my brother, Justin, who plays at Western Michigan.We both went through two ACLs together actually. He went through his first one and then I went through my first one, and then I tore my second against Georgia Tech and he tore his second a week afterwards. So we kind of went through them at similar times and had each other to lean on. We’re best friends, so that was someone that was crucial for my process of coming back.”
And with their help, Tranquill was able to make it back on the field for all 12 games his junior season. And while he said it was great to be back, it was also a “low season,” as the Irish stumbled to a 4-8 mark. The game lost some of its fun, he said.
But after a bevy of offseason changes, he and the Irish set their sights on the future — which for Tranquill meant learning a new position. Moving from the safety position to the rover linebacker spot in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s system, Tranquill had to make several adjustments. And even though he has 20 tackles and is the only Irish player with both a sack and an interception, he said he’s still making those adjustments.
“I’m a constant work in progress,” Tranquill said. “It’s always a work in progress, and it’s been a work in progress ever since I moved from the safety position. I’m kind of learning the mechanics of moving down at the linebacker level. But the rover position allows me to still do some things that I did at safety, so it’s not completely foreign.”
In addition to learning a new position on the field, Tranquill took a new position off of it: captain. And that’s a role he has embraced fully.
“My job as a captain is to help and allow my teammates to be the best versions of themselves that they can be, whether that’s on the field, in their life, in their academics, studying tape — whatever I can do to help make them better people and better players, that’s what I’m going to try to do here,” Tranquill said.
And perhaps no player on the team is better equipped to do just that. For although he’s a self-proclaimed “constant work in progress,” Tranquill seems to have a firm grip on just about every aspect of his life off the field.
Within the South Bend community, Tranquill started the “5th Quarter” program last year to share the lessons he learned about perseverance in the aftermath of his ACL injuries. He said it was the perfect opportunity to put his passion for speaking and teaching to use and give back to the community which has given him so much over the last four years.
“In football, sometimes not everyone necessarily has the opportunity to play. But in my time here at Notre Dame, I had gone through stuff off the field — be it injury or whatever,” Tranquill said. “And life’s a game, just like football, and we all have to play. So preparing ourselves and equipping ourselves properly to handle the ups and downs of life, I think, is really important. It’s something that I want everyone to see the hope that I have in my heart, and a lot of that comes from my faith in Jesus Christ. I just wanted to share that hope.”
“5th Quarter” isn’t Tranquill’s only avenue for his faith life. In fact, his faith is central to his identity — he is heavily involved in Lifeworks Ministry and Notre Dame Christian Athletes, and it formulates his purpose in life.
“Life doesn’t make sense without it. Without the story of Christ, life just doesn’t make sense to me,” Tranquill said. “I’ve studied engineering, I’ve studied a lot, I’ve been to Israel and studied a lot of different religions and different ideas, but to me, life just doesn’t make sense without the story of Christ and what he did on the cross. Each and every day, that just gives me a renewed hope. I’ve seen so many people’s lives changed by the power of the Gospel — I’ve seen my life changed by it. That’s just a message that I want to bring to this world. In a world that day in and day out seems to have its ups and downs, seems to be at war with itself, dividing — I just hope that my life speaks a renewed hope of the Gospel, and that’s what I want my life to be about.”
And one area of his life where that message will be loud and clear? His marriage. The senior got engaged this summer, proposing to his girlfriend in Iceland during a break in his summer schedule. She had spent the summer studying abroad in London and was traveling with her dad after her program ended, Tranquill said, so he had the opportunity to plan his proposal, get a ring and bring one of his best friends along to film it all. And now the couple’s wedding sits less than a year away.
“She’s the love of my life,” Tranquill said. “I love her with everything I have. … It’s a huge step. It seems a little surreal. I’m just studying and doing football, and I feel like just a kid still. But each and every day, I’m working to be the best husband I can be for her, and so it’s really exciting, man. It’s less than a year away, and I’m pumped.”
Until then, Tranquill will continue to do what he does best: study mechanical engineering — whether it be in the engineering library or the quiet confines of his own room — and lead the Irish to victory one game at a time.
Living life in the present, not fretting about the future and constantly progressing towards the best version of himself that he can possibly be.
“Everything’s still up in the air. We’re kind of just playing it by ear and seeing how the season goes,” Tranquill said. “I know I’ll be getting married next year, that’s about the only thing I do know, so we’ll see. I’m just excited for the season of life I’m in right now and enjoying every minute of it.”