If there’s one coach counting on freshman Drue Tranquill to find the football field, it’s head coach Brian Kelly. He was the driving force in the recruitment of the Indiana native, an offer that came later in the evaluation period and after Tranquill was committed to Purdue.
But once Notre Dame came around, Tranquill followed, and the Irish landed a unique athlete that’ll start his career at safety but looks to have the ability to grow into a linebacker. (He’s already bigger than start James Onwualu.)
Another Fort Wayne product playing for the Irish, let’s take a closer look at the freshman.
6'1.5" 225 lbs.
Freshman, No. 23
Tranquill’s offer list shows the concerns some colleges had with the standout from Carroll High. Not long enough to be a linebacker and maybe not fast or dynamic enough to be a defensive back, running back or wide receiver. But Tranquill’s tape showed a great football player, and after backing away from his commitment to Purdue, Tranquill ultimately chose the Irish over offers from programs like Penn State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Miami (OH), and Indiana.
If you’re to believe the reports during his recruitment, Notre Dame saw him as a linebacker from the start while Tranquill wanted to play safety. But Kelly stepped back from that assessment, talking about Tranquill’s recruitment and the type of player he saw on Signing Day.
“We weren’t looking for his position at the time because we were really full, and he was playing safety,” Kelly recalled. “But he kept jumping out at us. This kid was making plays, and Coach Hiestand kept banging me about ‘Hey, listen, watch this kid,’ and we kept looking at him, and he’d keep making plays during camp... It got to the point where I watched more film, we watched more film. I loved his attitude. I loved the way he played the game. I said, we’re going to offer him as a head coach’s offer. Head coach can offer anybody, right? Coach, we don’t have a scholarship. I said, well, we’ve got a scholarship now.
“So I offered him a scholarship, and we really didn’t have a position for him because we just loved the way he played the game, and so that’s kind of how the recruiting process went on Drue. People have asked does he play safety, does he play running back? I don’t know where he plays, but he’s going to play somewhere here at Notre Dame because he’s a darned good football player, he’s athletic, he’s competitive, and we’ll find a place for him somewhere. He’s one of those guys if he’s going to play at Notre Dame he’s going to play somewhere because he’s a really good football player.”
In Brian VanGorder’s new scheme, there’s room for athletes of Tranquill’s size, with the distinction between linebacker and safety blurred. But with the type of talent Notre Dame’s bringing in, Tranquill will be in a fight to make it into the two-deep, needing to differentiate himself in the meeting rooms or by building a reputation on special teams.
But as we saw in the past few weeks, all worries of Notre Dame being “full” when it comes to scholarships are usually just expressed before a few roster spots open up, and the three walk-ons awarded scholarships last week speak to the fact that it’s okay to use a scholarship for a player you believe in, even if you’re not sure how he’ll see the field.
It’s not necessarily a fair comparison, but watching Tranquill’s high school tape and early work in training camp, I thought back to an undersized hybrid player Pete Carroll got a lot out of named Matt Grootegoed. Tranquill’s much bigger than the former Trojan All-American, but Carroll took an excellent high school player (Grootegoed starred at Orange County power Mater Dei) and turned him into a consensus All-American.
No, I’m not predicting Tranquill to be the next Grootegoed. But for all the umbrage that comes from Kelly and the Irish staff sticking to their convictions on a prospect that may only garner three stars, consider the fact that this staff made a living and built a reputation on finding and identifying below-the-radar athletes who can find a way to thrive on the football field.
A football program may be led by stars like Jaylon Smith and Greg Bryant, but it’s built on the backs of players like Tranquill. Physically, Tranquill looks the part of a college-ready athlete, a workout warrior that came to campus developed and ready to contribute.
That should get him some work as a gunner covering kicks, while he continues to learn the nuances of playing in space at the college level, a world of difference from Indiana high school football. Ultimately, Tranquill will get his chance to find a role in VanGorder’s sub packages. But for now, getting on the field and wreaking havoc on special teams should be enough.
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