The path to the NFL draft weaves it’s way to Indianapolis this weekend for the NFL Scouting Combine. The event has been a fixture on the NFL calendar since 1977. It allows draft prospects another opportunity to showcase their talents for NFL executives, coaches and scouts.
They will get one more opportunity at college pro days, before Roger Goodell puts the Arizona Cardinals on the clock to begin the 2019 NFL Draft.
In a series of articles running up to the draft, I will be looking at some players you should be getting to know now before they become familiar faces in the NFL.
Introducing, Drue Tranquill…
Drue Tranquill is a linebacker out of Notre Dame University.
I had the opportunity earlier this week to sit down and talk with Drue about his time at Notre Dame, playing in the Senior Bowl and about his preparation for this weekend’s NFL Scouting Combine.
Tranquill’s path to the draft started at Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In his time there he was a multi sport athlete, excelling in football and baseball. On the football field he was a multi position player. He played defense as a linebacker and tallied over one thousand yards on offence as a running back.
Coming out of Carroll High School as a four star recruit, Tranquill had offers from several major programs. He choose one of the most prestigious institutions of them all, Notre Dame, and I asked him what it was like spending five years there:
“Well, it’s been incredible. The number of opportunities I’ve had to grow as an individual, both as a football player, as a student, as a man, it’s just been incredible. I’ve been and traveled overseas. I was able to be a two time captain. I’ve met so many wonderful people. It’s been an incredible process of learning about myself and really growing as a man and so Notre Dame was everything I hoped for and it certainly delivered on every end”.
Irish Fighting for championships in 2018…
Where Notre Dame delivered for Drue, he certainly delivered for them. He was voted the Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2014 for the Fighting Irish. He leaves the university as a two time captain (2017 and 2018). In his 52 games for the program he has contributed 292 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and 14 passes defended. From a football perspective, I wondered what the highlight of his time there was:
“Certainly, this year, having an undefeated regular season and having a chance to play for a College Football semi-final, in College Football Playoffs, a National Title bid. It was a wonderful ride this year and certainly coming back for my last year,it certainly made everything worth it. All the highs we experienced. I’ve had the opportunity to play in a lot of big games over the years but as you approach an undefeated season, which has only been done, you know, four times in Notre Dame history, the games get bigger and bigger. So, it was a wild ride this year and a lot of fun”.
After going 12-0 in the regular season, the Fighting Irish came up one short of the National Championship Game. Was this the best team that Tranquill has been a part of in his time there?
“Yeah, this year was the best overall team we had. In 2015 we had a lot of talented prospects with guys like Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller, DeShone Kizer and Sheldon Day and all those guys but this year we had a very very complete team, and certainly a slue of high prospect guys as well. I would definitely say the 2018 team was the best team I played on”.
Tranquill Tears ACL Twice…
I found it interesting that Drue mentioned the 2015 team. His 2014 season ended with an ACL tear in late November. However, he returned in 2015 looking better than ever. Unfortunately, after making an incredible pass break up in the endzone against Georgia Tech, disaster struck. As he celebrated the play with team mates, the ACL tore again and Tranquill crumpled to the ground. I asked him what his emotions were like at that time:
“It was a really difficult point for me in my life. I had just come off my first major injury the year before. So, eight months later I’m playing my best football and made an incredible comeback from an injury that a lot of people count you out after you go through…to have it happen a second time was certainly one of the lower points of my life”.
“I love the game of football and being able to compete and go out there each and every day. To have that taken away from me was a really difficult thing and something that took me a while to get over…It was definitely a learning experience but hard nevertheless…There was never a doubt in my mind that I would play again…I’ve never been able to stand losing and I’ve always had this competitive toughness inside of me that drives me each and every day so for me it was a matter of how fast could I get back”.
When you watch Notre Dame games, Tranquill’s love of the game and competitive toughness shines through. He will go after plays and see them through to the end where some players may give up on them. His versatility is something else that sets him apart. He started his career with the Fighting Irish as a safety and progressed to linebacker. I wondered what you have to change to make that transition:
“I honestly came to Notre Dame and we all sort of knew that I was ultimately, probably going to project to a linebacker. That was kind of in alignment to my natural instincts as a player. Just my nose for the ball and my desire to be hands on and physical. Tactically, this year was a big transition. I’ve played three positions whilst at Notre Dame, starting in the back end and playing sam nickel and then transitioning this year to will linebacker in the box”
“Tactically, things just happen so much more quickly. You have to be able to diagnose and see so many different moving pieces and get to your keys. So, that was a big transition for me just learning to adjust to my keys and see things quickly, have tight footwork and all the things that make excellent linebackers in the box”.
Having spent five years at Notre Dame and having played in multiple positions, how would Drue describe himself as a player as he prepares to take the next step in his career?
“I would start off by saying I truly believe that I am the most complete football player there is in this draft. I say that with the upmost humility but I’ve played in three different positions under three different defensive co-ordinators…Like I said earlier, I have this competitive toughness to me that drives me at any and all times. As a linebacker, I think what sets me apart is the speed I play with and then the instincts and the intellectual understanding of the game that I play with”
“I think having played safety, I understand coverage very well which makes me effective not only in my zone drops but also in my man drops as well…It’s just this competitive toughness that drives me, and my tool box of speed and strength and physicality kind of all blend nicely to make me a really complete football player”.
Senior Bowl Sensation…
That skill set earned Drue an invitation to this year’s Senior Bowl where he starred on the victorious North Team. We talked about that experience:
“Well, I think it was great. Having played in the national semi-final game I was slightly reluctant to going. Having to play a game after you just finished a long season, you kind of want to focus and train yourself on these different drills that your going to have to do [at the combine] that you’ve never done before but honestly I’m very thankful and grateful that I went. It was an experience that was great and a testament to who I am as a football player, a guy who likes to compete and get after it. We were certainly able to do that against some of the best competition there was. It was a great week for me and a great learning experience going in to the combine”.
Tranquill will be part of the linebacker group that takes to the field on Sunday for the NFL Combine. He has been out in San Diego getting ready for that experience. I asked him about the preparation for the weekend:
“It’s been great, and honestly it’s been challenging the past two weeks as we have been in a taper program…I’ve never done a taper in my life. I’ve always just been a hundred to nothing and training as hard as I can so giving my body rest is something that’s different to how I’ve trained in years past. I’m excited to see the results of going through this phase and I guess we’ll see this Sunday”.
Drue had mentioned his speed previously and I wondered if he had a projection in mind for the 40 yard dash?
“I’m going to be as surprised as everybody else. They haven’t given me an insight in to what that time is since I came in [to training at Exos in San Diego]. So, I’m really looking forward to figuring out my time as well”.
I suggest to him that there’s a theory that linebackers should run between 4.60 and 4.80:
“Oh absolutely, if you don’t run it between there you’re in trouble”.
The NFL Combine will also give Tranquill the opportunity to contribute to something more than football. Throughout his time at Notre Dame, he has been instrumental in charity and community work. As part of Uplifting Athletes, he will raise money for rare disease research for every bench press rep completed. I asked him about this:
“We have a chapter of Uplifting Athletes at Notre Dame, and they reached out to me with this awesome opportunity. I was like, absolutely I will bench press to help raise money for rare diseases. It certainly affects quite a few Americans and other people worldwide. It’s another great cause to get involved in and have a little fun here at the combine”.
The Danny Wuerffel Trophy…
It’s another cause of many that Drue Tranquill has been involved in, including work with under privileged kids both at home and abroad. His work in this area, combined with his excellence on the football field, was rewarded this past year with the Danny Wuerffel Trophy. The trophy is awarded to a student who shows exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement. I asked him what it meant to receive such an award:
“I had the chance to travel down to Florida and receive the award and get around the previous winners and hear a little more about the history of the award and get to hear some testimonies and it blew me away, the group of guys that they have as former winners and the meaning behind the award and who Danny Wuerffel is as a man. It’s very admirable the work that he’s done and all the people he’s helping in Southern Louisiana. So to be recognised and associated with those men, it was an honour and a humbling experience”.
The path to the NFL can also be a very humbling experience. The team that picks Drue Tranquill at the end of April will be getting a guy who already has that humility. They’ll also be getting a guy who’s competitive nature and love for the game may well make him a leader in the league, and his community, for years to come.
Photo Credit: Matt Cashore (USA TODAY-Sports)
Thanks go to Drue Tranquill for taking the time to speak with me. Also, to Rebecca Otto and Alexis Ramos at Wasserman Football for making this interview possible.