Notre Dame freshman Drue Tranquill makes immediate impact in victory
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Drue Tranquill, it seems, is destined to become a chapter in the lore of Notre Dame football. A regional recruit that the Fighting Irish didn't really need, made a solid debut in his first college football game Saturday, and gave all appearances that he'll be a persistent presence on the new field turf at Notre Dame Stadium for years to come.
The Carroll High School graduate wasn't really even wanted by the Fighting Irish coaching staff entering his senior year -- well, aside from assistant coach Harry Hiestand. But that wasn't due to a lack of talent, because without question, Tranquill can play. It was because Notre Dame didn't need a guy at Tranquill's position (safety).
Well, Notre Dame needs him today. And Notre Dame is going to use him. A lot. Today.
"He's a physically strong, conditioned athlete," Irish coach Brian Kelly said in wake of his team's 48-17 thumping of Rice Saturday. "So he's physically beyond his years, condition wise, and he carries himself not like a freshman."
Tranquill played all over the place against the Owls and his performance -- though not startling in a statistical sense -- was solid enough to be considered one heckuva first game by any player.
Kelly had Tranquill in on multiple special teams' units, as well as rotating in at safety.
Blocking on punt return? Tranquill did that.
Chasing down a Rice returner on kickoffs? Yep, that was him, too.
Lining up at safety? Certainly.
Lining up "inside the box" in dime packages? Absolutely.
The kid was everywhere, as he totaled three tackles.
"I thought we did a really good job tackling today," Kelly said. "Because that's one of the things that with all the concerns with head injuries, you don't tackle quite as much. And I thought our guys did a great job tackling today and [Tranquill] is a very good tackler."
He also proved to be a "very good" blocker.
Tranquill was called upon to clear a lane for Notre Dame punt returners Greg Bryant (31 yards on three returns) and Cody Riggs (49 yards on a pair of returns), which showed an aspect of play which may have been as shocking to Notre Dame fans as perhaps the unveiling of the forward pass a century ago.
It's been a long time since there was anything "special" about the Irish special teams. But with athletes like Tranquill involved all of sudden that part of the Notre Dame game plan isn't the ideal time for a bathroom break.
"[Improvement in punt returns] were driven by personnel," Kelly said. "And it was driven by wanting to improve in that area. I think we had 70 something yards in punt returns, and I think we only had 100 some the entire year last year. I think we've improved there."
Kelly indicated earlier in training camp that Tranquill would be a part of the special teams units, however, when cornerback KeiVarae Russell and safety Eilar Hardy were recently suspended while under investigation for academic dishonesty, and safety Austin Collinsworth suffered a knee injury (he may return for the Purdue game in mid-September, Kelly said), similar to last fall, Kelly just kept thinking about Tranquill and his ability to make plays.
"It got to the point where I watched more film, we watched more film," Kelly recalled of Tranquill's recruitment, "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?"
And Kelly's instincts are paying immediate dividends.
"Drue's just a highly conditioned athlete and physically strong [he's 225 pounds] that he can compete," Kelly said Saturday. "His is just a learning curve of the game and the speed of the game, but we'll get him ready and he'll continue to play more and more football."
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