Following Tranquill’s example, the linebacking corps have been a rock for Notre Dame’s defense
Joe Everett | Friday, November 23, 2018
In what has turned out to be a special season for Notre Dame football, perhaps nobody has been as important to the success of the team as two-time captain Drue Tranquill.
The graduate student linebacker has been a machine on the field and a mentor off it for the Irish (11-0), as the team has gained inspiration from not only the way he handles his business, but most importantly because of the personal relationships he’s formed with the guys all around him.
“What people don’t recognize is that, more than anything else, his growth as a teammate from last year to this year has been amazing,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in Tuesday’s press conference. “He was a captain and a leader [last year], but he was hard to follow in a sense, because the bar for him is so high, and sometimes for other players its hard to imagine being Drue Tranquill. … He was almost to hard to imagine and too hard to mirror.
“This year, he’s still that, but he’s so close to his teammates because of the believability of who he is on a day-to-day basis — they see the same guy every day. He comes in, he works out, he trains, he fights through injuries — [so] they don’t see all those other things, they see a guy who is so committed to being successful that they can mirror that. What he’s meant to our team this year, even though his status hasn’t changed as captain, [has] impacted our team so much differently.”
Tranquill himself reflected on his leadership style and how it’s grown and matured. After explaining that he probably spread himself too thin with everything that college offered during his undergraduate years, he now has more time to spend building relationships with his brothers on the team.
“I think when I first got here, it was a guy who gets stuff done. Sets an example with everything he does through his actions. I think I’ve evolved the past two years to be more of a relational leader, and I’ve really realized that people matter most in life,” Tranquill said. “People really aren’t going to care what you have to say unless they know that you care first, so really just establishing that relationship with guys so that they can respect, trust and know that I care about them first and foremost, and that really allows you as a leader to speak into their life, whether it’s tough love or whether it’s encouragement.”
As Kelly noted, Tranquill has had to tough his way through several injuries in order to stay on the field and continue to contribute to Notre Dame’s currently-undefeated campaign. He broke his hand against Stanford in late September, then suffered a high-ankle sprain in the first half against Navy in San Diego — an injury that looked to keep him out at least a couple weeks. However, Tranquill was back on the field the next weekend against Northwestern, fighting off the pain to help the Irish fend off the Wildcats and win their ninth game. Even though Tranquill must now spend several hours each morning before practice doing exercises and working with the training staff to get his ankle ready for the upcoming Saturday, he doesn’t feel sorry for himself. For Tranquill, it’s just a part of playing the game he cares about with a team he cares about.
“I feel probably like a lot of the guys feel,” Tranquill said. “It’s week 13. Look at a boxer when he’s coming off the ropes in Rounds 11 or 12 — nobody’s 100 percent. That’s just the nature of the game.”
Even though he’s nowhere close to 100 percent, Tranquill is still a welcome sight on the field for the Irish, as the linebacker has registered 66 tackles and three-and-a-half sacks this season. However, it’s been his presence off the field — in his example and his mentorship — that has had the most impact.
“He’s continuing to coach the younger guys, and all the guys look up to Drue,” senior linebacker Te’von Coney said. “ … A lot of guys have made huge strides. I’ve made huge strides in the coverage component, and guys have been continuing to get better. We’re never complacent; we’re always pushing each other to get better — I think we have a group of guys who are never satisfied … it makes the group stronger.”
Thanks to the leadership and play of both Tranquill and Coney, the Irish linebackers corps have been a rock for Clark Lea’s defense this season. Coney leads the team with 99 tackles, while fellow senior linebacker Asmar Bilal, who has taken on the rover position, has racked up 42.
However, with both Tranquill and Coney set to leave after this year, the development of the younger players has been paramount. Sophomore Drew White stepped in and played well against Navy in Tranquill’s absence. Sophomore Jordan Genmark-Heath and freshmen Bo Bauer and Shayne Simon are budding stars. In the end, it all goes back to the leadership of Tranquill, the two-time captain.
“He’s an amazing guy, you can’t ask for more out of a brother and teammate,” Coney said. “He’s accountable, trustworthy, and you can count on him for anything. You can always go to him, he [always ready] to help his brothers out. When you have a guy like that, you can’t ask for more.”