It was Drue Tranquill’s 23rd birthday, and he felt old.
That is, as old as a 23-year-old linebacker can feel when preparing to embark on a fifth season at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Tranquill’s feelings were justifiable — if only accounting for the age difference between himself and his youngest teammates — but he had plenty of other reasons to feel mature beyond his years.
For one, he’s entering his second season as a captain for the Irish, the ranking veteran among three other fifth-year captains.
He’s also physically endured more than many in his position, suffering a pair of ACL tears within 10 months of each other. Were it not for those injuries, Tranquill would almost certainly be playing elsewhere this season, having exhausted his eligibility in four years.
And, not for nothing, by his 23rd birthday Tranquill was just over a month into his marriage to high school sweetheart, Jackie (née Gindt).
With that much responsibility, you better grow up fast.
“That’s been a long process for me here and I’ve got a lot of experience in a lot of different areas, whether that’s playing on the field, coming back from injury,” said Tranquill. “I’ve gone through a lot of adversity here as a Notre Dame student-athlete and I think the guys respect me from that. I think they respect me keeping a girlfriend long-distance for four years and now she’s my wife and that puts me in a new league. There are just a lot of different areas where I bring experience that a lot of our guys are interested in and want to talk about.”
Ever the family man, Tranquill gave the term new meaning on July 14, 2018, when he and Jackie made it official at Broadway Christian Church in their hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Suddenly, they each had a new immediate family to think about. Suddenly, perspectives shifted.
“A lot of times young guys come and have a bad practice and everything’s just right (in front of them) and they don’t have perspective,” Tranquill said. “I think marriage is something that really opens your eyes and makes you see what truly is important in life. She’s that for me. She’s an absolute gift, an angel from the Lord, and it’s a nice refresher heading into the long grind of the season.”
It was a union more than five years in the making. The pair began dating as students at Carroll High School and sustained their relationship over long distance while Jackie attended Purdue to study dietetics and Drue pursued football and a mechanical engineering degree at Notre Dame.
By the summer of 2017, just before his senior season with the Irish was to begin, Tranquill knew he wanted to propose. He also knew he would have his friend, Matthew Millay, film the proposal for a video that would later be viewed more than 5,000 times on YouTube.
The only hitch? Jackie was studying abroad in London.
It just so happened the only weekend that allowed Tranquill to fly overseas coincided with a July weekend trip to Iceland for Jackie. So Tranquill and Millay boarded a flight to the small Nordic island, with a ring of his own design tucked in Tranquill’s pocket.
She had no idea.
“I wanted to do it before the season to be able to focus on the season afterward,” Tranquill said. “A lot of people think I planned this elaborate trip to Iceland, but it kind of just worked out that she was there. I flew out there with my best friend, was there for 36 hours and flew home.”
In a voiceover heard in the Millay-produced video, Tranquill says, “Jackie, you and I both know we love surprises. I believe a surprise is chance with purpose. When you walked into my life five years ago, it was the most incredible surprise I ever experienced. So it only made sense that I fly to Iceland and surprise you and ask you to be my wife.”
They were married almost exactly a year later.
In many ways, Tranquill’s run-up to the 2018 season felt just like the four that preceded it. In other, obvious, ways it was much, much different.
Finding balance between the responsibilities of a captain at Notre Dame and the responsibilities of a husband has been, understandably, tough.
“From getting married and the honeymoon phase to fall camp and leaving my wife, that’s been a hard transition for us,” Tranquill says, “especially for her because for me, I get to come here and play football, which I love. But for her, she’s in a new area, trying to make new friends and figure out work, so it’s been a difficult balance but she’s been a champ about it. Getting to move out of the dorms (after camp ended) and go home was nice, but there isn’t much balance in training camp. It’s all-in for football and then as training camp settles down and you head into the season, you are kind of able to bring things back to equilibrium.”
Now, that the season is in full swing, the Tranquills will take it day by day in figuring out their new normal.
For Drue, that also means focusing just as much on football. He’s made the move from rover to buck linebacker this season — after starting his career at safety — and between adjusting to the new position and serving as a mentor to his younger teammates, he’ll be relied upon just as much as ever.
Not that he’s ever given head coach Brian Kelly — or anyone else involved with the program — much cause to worry.
“Drue — he doesn’t change much,” said Kelly shortly after the Tranquill nuptials. “Every day, he’s on top of it. You talk about accountability and responsibility, he takes it all on his shoulders. I’m sure that he’s very happy. I know that for sure. It was a great wedding, and I think it’s a great relief that now he can just focus strictly on football and what his future is going to be.
“He presents himself in all aspects of our program from a leadership standpoint, both on and off the field. And because he does it right all the time, we’ve got a lot of guys following him.”
And despite the position shuffling throughout his career, plenty is expected of Tranquill on the field in his final year in blue and gold. After finishing 2017 with 85 tackles (third on team), 10.5 tackles for loss (second on team) and three fumble recoveries (first on team), he’s appeared on watch lists for the Butkus Award (given to the nation’s top linebacker) and the Lott Trophy (awarded to the defensive IMPACT [integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community, tenacity] player of the year), not to mention the Wuerffel Trophy (awarded to the college player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement).
Talk about a well-rounded student-athlete.
“Certainly playing experience has helped him a lot, especially being at the rover,” Kelly said of his ability to transition to the buck. “He knows the fits and how they work and how it kind of sets up his fits at the will linebacker position. I think what happened here is when we moved him, his instincts were really good for a box player. Sometimes they’re not quite as easily seen. In other words, he doesn’t feel the ball, the ball carrier and where his fits are; he just naturally had a nice nose for it right away, and he’s progressed in pass coverage and all the little pieces of that position.”
With all of his experience — on the football field and in life — Tranquill has certainly earned the kind of wisdom he says his teammates look to him for. And he’s just fine being the wise guy — even if it makes him feel old.
“I love taking that experience, teaching, speaking,” he says. “Those are two of my favorite things to do, things that I’ve found I’m very passionate about, so to be able to do that to our younger guys is fun.”
Joanne Norell, Senior Editor, Athletics Communications at the University of Notre Dame, has been a member of Fighting Irish Media since 2014 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of Gameday Magazine. Additionally, she oversees editorial content for UND.com, WatchND and department publications. She has previously served as athletics communications director for women’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis, and cross country/track & field, and continues to work with the national championship fencing program.