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POINT-COUNTERPOINT: Notre Dame’s Drue Tranquill should NOT leave for the NFL

Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill readies for a play against Michigan State during the 2016 season in South Bend. (File photo by Gannon Burgett for News-Sentinel.com)
Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill (23) tries to tackle Miami running back Travis Homer (24) during the second half of a recent game in Miami Gardens, Fla. (By The Associated Press)
North Carolina State's Kelvin Harmon (3) is tackled by Notre Dame's Drue Tranquill (23) during the second half of a game earlier this season in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)

There are a number of very special traditions that fill a Notre Dame home football weekend.

From the “Player walk” to the singing of the “Alma Mater” and everything in between, for a Fighting Irish fan, but especially an alumnus, there is no better way to enjoy a beautiful autumn weekend than being back on the campus and cheering on their favorite team.

That is precisely why, on any given home weekend, the sidelines are filled with former Notre Dame players, each of whom returns to relive their irreplaceable memories and take in the glorious atmosphere.

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“I love having our former players come back,” Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said earlier this season. “They’re always welcome. It feels great as a head coach to see those guys come back and be a part of it.”

It “feels great” for Kelly, but it feels even greater for the former athletes. Regardless of how their Irish careers turned out (some were disappointing, others magnificent), it is clear to see when you observe those players returning that their time at Notre Dame was one in which they’ll hold in their hearts forever.

Fighting Irish senior linebacker Drue Tranquill emotionally spoke on that topic recently and that is precisely why the former Carroll High School standout should take full advantage of his collegiate eligibility in 2018 and return for a fifth season.

Tranquill endured a pair of knee injuries over the past four seasons, which allow him the opportunity to return next season and possibly lead the Irish to a coveted spot in the College Football Playoff, as opposed to trying out for the NFL.

“Those decisions will be made in December and January,” Tranquill said recently. “I’m kind of just focusing on finishing up here and finishing this season. So those decisions will be made at a later date.”

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There are certainly pros and cons to either side of this debate, however, what can’t be replaced if he leaves South Bend, and this is an absolute certainty, are the cherished memories that he will add, and the legacy in which he’ll strengthen, by returning to captain the 2018 squad as he did this year, especially if it is a championship-caliber team.

“What I’ve been through at Notre Dame,” Tranquill said, “just with having two knee injuries and kind of everything I’ve gone through, to just go out of that tunnel and walk out on that field is a special moment each and every opportunity. Because whether it’s a decision to leave or whether it’s a decision to do something else, or whether it’s an injury, you never know when your last snap is.”

The two prevailing arguments for turning professional for most athletes are financial stability, as well as a fear of injury.

As far as Tranquill is concerned, the former isn’t a concern at all and the latter has already occurred twice and he overcame both obstacles to still succeed.

Tranquill will graduate, with honors, next month with a degree in mechanical engineering. That achievement, packaged with his notoriety as a leader on Notre Dame’s team and campus, will assure him of financial stability for the rest of his life.

The average mechanical engineer nationally makes in the neighborhood of $100,000 annually. Add in Tranquill’s resume, the connections that a Notre Dame degree affords a graduate, and the fact that by returning to South Bend for a possible four more semesters in which he could add a graduate degree, such as an M.B.A., and it is clear that he will never want for in life financially.

Drue Tranquill will be a very wealthy man regardless of whether he ever makes a tackle again and that isn’t even debatable.

Oh, and by the way, he can still seek the opportunity to play in the NFL in 2019, so it isn’t as if his chance at a pro career evaporates in the next six months.

To bolster that last point, he may even strengthen his perspective in the eyes of the NFL evaluators with another strong season for a nationally-relevant team.

A search of current “mock drafts” project Tranquill to be selected late in the 2018 NFL Draft, if at all.

As a (for example) fifth round selection, Tranquill would ink a four-year deal with a signing bonus above the league minimum. However, the only guaranteed compensation in that deal is the signing bonus, because the likelihood that he is still in the NFL through four seasons is a flip of the coin. The rookie minimum salary in the NFL in 2017 is $465,000, according to Forbes.

A glance at the 2015 NFL Draft shows that 15 of the 32 players selected in the fifth round are no longer on active rosters.

What isn’t a flip of the coin, however, is how much being at Notre Dame has meant to Tranquill.

He recently took part in the Senior Day festivities in which he was recognized and ran out to his parents at midfield, possibly for the last time.

“I think it’ll be kind of a culmination of everything I’ve accomplished to this point,” Tranquill said prior to that day, “and I’ll try not to cry, man. This thing means a lot to me. And so yeah, it’ll be special for sure.”

It is a virtual certainty that Tranquill will gather with his current Notre Dame teammates 10-, 20-, 30- and even 50 years from now in South Bend and laugh and cry as they tell stories of days gone by.

What isn’t nearly as likely to occur is that Tranquill and his former NFL teammates, probably being from multiple teams and having played a handful of seasons, will gather to do the same.

“You may not get him off the field tonight,” Kelly said earlier this month following Tranquill’s final home game this season. “They may have to leave the lights on, because those kids don’t want to leave.”

Then don’t.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

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