Drue Tranquill’s wife and parents did not make his ankle run out to midfield during Saturday’s pregame Senior Day festivities. The two-time Notre Dame captain had a full slate of duties awaiting in the 42-13 Irish victory against Florida State, so sparing the 40 yards made sense.
They were not as considerate after the game, keeping Tranquill at midfield taking photos and exchanging hugs as the clock passed midnight, freezing temperatures ignored. By that point, only two players remained on the turf, fifth-year captain and punter Tyler Newsome holding back tears, hugging anyone he could find, including ushers; and Tranquill, surrounded by family and friends. As much as they were celebrating a 6-0 home record this season, they were recognizing a full five-year career.
“Special, special moment to look up at my family, give them a fist bump,” Tranquill said immediately after the game, yet to head back outside for those midfield encounters. “For a moment there, realize what we have accomplished. It just felt like so much more yet to be done and it really felt like standing on that field, there was a bigger celebration awaiting us in the future.”
Tranquill finished with seven tackles against the Seminoles, playing nearly every defensive snap in a return to form after just one week of limited action thanks to a high ankle sprain. A few times a Florida State player would fall on the taped joint, a natural occurrence in a football game, and Tranquill admitted it hurt plenty, but not such he needed to miss much.
Frankly, this injury would not warrant mention if not for its recency. When discussing Tranquill’s legacy — perhaps an overwrought word but something in that vein is applicable to an in-state product who becomes a two-time captain on back-to-back double-digit-wins seasons — the injuries are as intertwined with the story as his stats are. His 265 tackles are matched by two ACL tears. His hand in seven turnovers is now a hand wrapped in a cast. And, of course, that ankle which only a view through the rosiest of lens would indicate is close to healthy already.
“It’s crazy what the human body can do,” Tranquill said. “… To be able to go through the knees and come back, even more so to have a high ankle sprain two weeks ago and to be able to play on my Senior Night was really special.”
Tranquill was the last of the 32 seniors announced before kickoff. His shorter jog to family did not set a precedent for anyone else. That may be the only way he has not been followed this season. The defensive line may be the strongest unit on the team, the safeties may be the most improved, and senior linebacker Te’von Coney the most consistent, but Tranquill is clearly the leader.
His willingness to move from safety to rover and now to inside linebacker plays a role in that. When Tranquill flipped his commitment from Purdue, getting a chance at safety was a contributing factor. Yet, when the time came to move forward, he did not push back against the coaching staff.
“It was all what the team needed,” Tranquill said. “The team needed me at safety at that time. As we’ve evolved and recruited guys who can play back there, it’s allowed me to move into more my natural position.”
And at the end of the night, that position was a few words with Newsome before finally reaching the 50-yard line and his family, just as Newsome and the 30 other seniors had done before the game.
There was no genuine chance Coney would be named a captain before the season. Notre Dame rarely, if ever, bestows that honor upon a player with a notable disciplinary issue in his past. But as Coney established himself as a ball-carrier hunter over the last 17 games, his presence as a defensive leader could not be ignored. Making 161 tackles over 17 games will do that. He led the Irish with 116 tackles last season, leads them now with 87 and is on pace for 113 in a 13-game season.
And on Saturday, he led them as a captain in his final game at Notre Dame Stadium, alongside Tranquill, Newsome, fifth-year left guard Alex Bars and fifth-year center Sam Mustipher.
“He was proud of the opportunity that he was given as a game day captain,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “He took it serious. You could tell by the way he practiced all week. Not that he hasn’t practiced at that level, but it was very important to him.”
A QUICK 2019 NOTE
With Louisville’s second dismissal of Bobby Petrino, but not yet Brian VanGorder as defensive coordinator, two of Notre Dame’s opponents next year are already looking for new head coaches, with the other being Bowling Green.
It is more than fair to speculate that number could grow to four with New Mexico and Bob Davie a possibility, and USC and Clay Helton on uncertain footing.
Somewhat-related, two former Irish assistants remain on hot seats: Chuck Martin at Miami (OH), a cause he did not aid by cracking wise last week about available funds within the MAC as a whole, and Mike Sanford at Western Kentucky, who reportedly will be fired if the Hilltoppers lose their last two games.
— No Book, no problem for Notre Dame
— Notre Dame’s good soldier comes through
— Dexter Williams flips the script in breakout senior season ($)
— Louisville revenge is small potatoes for Syracuse; Notre Dame awaits