Sometimes, if you're Carroll's Drue and Justin Tranquill, you just have to one-up the other guy.
Case in point, the kick return. Specifically, a pair of big-time returns.
First, understand that the Tranquills are standout athletes — Drue a senior at 6-2 and 210 pounds, Justin a junior at 5-11 and 190. They do just about everything on a football field except officiate, which is why coach Doug Dinan, who is no fool, uses them so much.
They both return punts, usually at the same time. Drue will take one side of the field, often the left side. Justin takes the other. There is an understanding that if the ball is kicked toward one, the other stays out of the way.
Except that one time, Drue forgot. Or his competitive instincts took over. Or he was trying to get an edge over his fiercely competitive younger brother.
“For some reason,” Drue says, “I ran all the way to his side of the field, even though he called it, ran right in front of him, caught the ball and took it to the house.”
In other words, Drue scored a touchdown that might have been Justin's.
Yes, Justin remembered.
The next game, he cut in front of Drue and bolted for an even longer scoring return of his own.
Payback, it seems, has its privileges.
“That was funny,” Drue says. “I got a kick out of that.”
There are plenty of kicks for both brothers whenever Carroll plays. They almost never leave the field. They return, run, catch and even pass. Dinan, as we've mentioned, is no fool.
The result — their fitness is off the charts.
“They have to be in good shape,” Dinan says. “To be a 6A school, to be an athlete in a 6A program, to be a two-way guy, you have to be in great shape because of the physicality of the game, the speed of the game, the nature of the opponent. Most of the players going against them will be one-way players.”
Dinan, it seems, has totally bought into the approach that from whom much is given, much is expected
“We are not going to try to get them off the field. We want our best athletes to be on the field as much as possible. We'll have to bring the water to them instead of them coming to the sidelines for water.”
Dinan chuckles when he says this. Or maybe it's a growl. Football coaches are rarely confused with, say, actor/comedian Robin Williams. Winning is serious business, no matter the level played.
“The Tranquill brothers are very important to us,” Dinan says. “They are tremendous athletes. They have great physical skills. Great speed. Good size.
“Drue is a good leader. He's looked up to by the whole Carroll community as a hard worker. Justin is as well.”
Drue is fine with playing all the time — to a point. He would, for instance, prefer to let somebody else punt.
“Last year took a huge toll on me. I rarely came off the field. This year we'll try to fill a couple of those spots, like punter, where maybe I can get a break.”
Not that he's complaining about the workload.
“It's something I get used to. When you want to win that bad, it's worth it. You push through.”
Pushing has its benefits. Justin is the starting tailback who also plays some slot receiver. Last year he totaled well over 1,000 yards in rushing and receiving. He also plays cornerback on defense. Drue played slot receiver as well as some Wildcat quarterback. He had about 350 receiving yards in addition to all the big plays he made on defense as a linebacker/safety.
Factor in kick returns and both brothers scored about 15 touchdowns each. Justin had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Drue returned a punt 70 yards for a TD, another for 63 yards and a score, plus had an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
“They are great scoring weapons,” Dinan says.
Greatness comes, in part, from an athletic family heritage.
The Tranquills' father, Tony, was an outstanding baseball player. Their grandfather Johnny King was a great athlete.
And then there's the motivation that comes from a sibling rivalry that is based on love, respect and the occasional clash.
“It's awesome to play with my brother,” Drue says. “He's been my best friend since Day One. It's great to have someone who always has your back.”
Adds Dinan: “They are close. They have a great relationship. They look after each other.
“Yes, they like to have a little competition. At times they (trash) talk in practice. But they are very close.”
Drue is a year older and has always been a little bigger and stronger than Justin. Drue has tried to take advantage of that. Justin has tried to make him pay for trying.
“We've always been super competitive,” Drue says. “We'd always get in fights as little kids — whether it was basketball in the driveway or backyard football. The littlest things we'd get competitive.
“He's always been aggressive. I never wanted to hurt him, and he's always had that attack mentality.
“As we've grown, we've developed respect for each other. He's not quite as feisty, but we're still competitive. We still get going every once in a while, but we generally don't fight anymore. We know our strengths and weaknesses, so we can help each other with those.”
Drue rates as the No. 9 football player in the state of Indiana according to Rivals.com, a national Internet recruiting service. He committed to Purdue, although a late scholarship offer from Notre Dame created drama he didn't want approaching the start of the high school season.
Justin has an offer from Toledo, with more likely to come.
“I don't think that will be the limit on his offers,” Dinan says. “After his sophomore year, to have a Division I offer on the table is unheard of. Most offers don't come until you're between your junior and senior seasons.
“Justin will be a Division I player. Where he'll play, whether they see him as a running back or a receiver or a defensive back, is based on the need of the school. He looks pretty appealing playing cornerback because he has great closing speed. He's very physical on the line of scrimmage. You can press with him. His footwork is tremendous. He backpedals with ease. I can see him easily playing corner in college, if not safety, although he's not getting any safety experience playing for us.”
Drue figures to get more Wildcat quarterback work than he did last year. He's fine with that.
“I love it. It's one of my favorite positions — being a signal caller and getting that direct snap. I played it the last half of last season, and carried it a lot.
“The position comes with a lot of responsibility, but I like that pressure. It always makes the game more exciting.”
Drue was more of a running quarterback last year. This year, expect him to pass more, which will put more pressure on opposing defenses.
“I can pass. I've thrown quite a bit (in practice). I've gotten better at it. I used to throw it like a baseball. I'm getting in the groove now.”
Two years ago, Carroll went 8-4 and reached the sectional final before losing to powerhouse Penn.
Last year, the Chargers went 10-3, including a sectional upset win over Penn and their first sectional championship.
This year, all things seem possible, even though they are in the new 6A division, which features the state's 32 largest schools based on enrollment.
There will be postseason challenges from perennial powers such as Penn, Carmel, Hamilton Southeastern and more beyond the sectional challenges from Homestead, Warsaw and Northrop.
“We're extremely optimistic,” Drue says. “We've been working since January. Coach not only sees a lot of potential in the younger guys, but from a lot of the guys coming back. The older guys will be good leaders and help the younger guys fill their roles.”
As for the keys to a state title run, Drue says, “We have to come together, trust in our coaches and believe in one another. If we all play together as one unit on one track, we'll run smoothly. Our leaders have to keep guys on task and focused and come together in times of emergency.
“We want to be playing our best by Week 10. Whatever we need to do that will be imperative.”
Much of that burden will fall to the Tranquills. Dinan wouldn't want it any other way.
“What will maximize their potential is how our team develops around them. How do other players raise their games to match their levels. Look at the great leaders on great teams. (Former Snider standout) Rod Woodson is a great example of that. Great players play for state championships. They play for championships at high levels. Not just the sectional.
“That's my concern. How do they as great leaders uplift our program? How do they raise the bar of everybody else to take the program to another level?”
The Tranquills, Drue adds, are ready to lead.
“We're excited for the Carroll community. Carroll wasn't always that successful of a program. We're grateful toward Coach Dinan and his staff and what they've been able to put together. We have something to look forward to on Friday nights. Things have turned around.
“I can't wait for the Friday night lights and getting to spend time with the guys who mean the most in my life. My teammates are awesome. I love being able to compete with them. This is our last run together and we want to make the most of it.”