To play or not to play? Notre Dame captain sees both sides of complex issue

Notre Dame's Drue Tranquill reaches to tackle North Carolina quarterback Chazz Surratt (12) during the first half of a game this past season in Chapel Hill, N.C. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly watches his team compete during the first half of a game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. earlier this season. (By The Associated Press)

Perhaps it isn’t entirely relevant to get Drue Tranquill’s opinion on playing in an upcoming bowl game at the risk of an athlete’s professional future, however, it was interesting – and admirable – to hear the Notre Dame linebacker’s thoughts on such.

The Fighting Irish senior spoke with the media Sunday with the question of competing in a bowl game versus risking injury being broached. The former Carroll High School standout was definitive – to a degree – in his response.

“I don’t know that for me, personally, (sitting out a bowl game) is something that I would entertain,” Tranquill said. “I don’t even know if I was projected as the top pick in the draft that would be something that I would entertain.”

Notre Dame (9-3) will face LSU (9-3) in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on Jan. 1 (1 p.m., ABC).

Currently, Tranquill is in a difficult, but enviable, position. His is a rare position because he has options; a myriad of options; as they pertain to his future.

Professionally, he is graduating this month with an honored degree in mechanical engineering, so he could enter the workforce and immediately do very well financially.

Athletically, Tranquill could enter the 2018 NFL Draft or because of knee injuries endured during his time at Notre Dame, he could return for another stellar season in South Bend.

To make that decision somewhat easier, he will seek input from the NFL later this month as to how they view him as a prospect.

“What I can get better on,” Tranquill said of what he wants to learn from the NFL evaluators, “and what they perceive as my strengths or weaknesses.”

The NFL grades prospects in terms of being a first- or second-round selection, or they’ll advise the player to return to school.

The mock drafts mostly project Tranquill as a late-round (fifth to seventh) selection, if at all. However, he said such a grade wouldn’t necessarily dissuade him from turning pro anyway.

“I don’t know that it necessarily will,” Tranquill said. “Obviously, it is feedback and you’ll take all of the feedback that you can get.”

Tranquill has a unique perspective on the downside of playing in a bowl game, even if he isn’t a high draft selection candidate himself.

Two seasons ago, Tranquill watched Irish teammate and fellow Fort Wayne resident Jaylon Smith fall in the 2016 NFL Draft after injuring his knee in the Fiesta Bowl. That injury took Smith out of contention for being one of the top selections and cost him several million dollars.

Watching that situation, Tranquill said that he understands why certain athletes are cautious in terms of playing in a bowl game, even if he wouldn’t be.

“I understand what some guys are doing when they do that,” Tranquill said of sitting out the game. “Guys are going to point to (Smith), like, see what happened there? I understand it.”

“It’s a business decision. I don’t think that it’s anything against the university or against their teammates. I think when you look at it from a financial standpoint it makes sense for some guys.”

Tranquill said that his love of Notre Dame would be too strong for him not to take the field.

“It’s an interesting idea,” Tranquill said. “But I think me, personally, the pride I have for the university and the opportunity that it has given me, I don’t know that is necessarily something that I would want on my record.”


Tranquill sees both sides of the complex issue, and it may be surprising to some, that his coach does, as well.

Veteran Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said that no current Notre Dame player has approached him in regards to sitting out the Citrus Bowl, but if they do, and it makes sense for their future, he’ll “support” them.

“I met with all of my captains,” Kelly said, “and none of them gave me any indication that (sitting out) would be the case. We’ll deal with any individual situations, if they arise, but nobody has approached me about it.”

The Irish have a pair of players (offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson), who are projected has first round selections, while several other players could be picked early, as well.

“We’ll proceed as if everybody’s going to play,” Kelly said. “If there are any individual cases that need to be dealt with, we’ll support our players 100 percent.”

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