NOTRE DAME — “It’s just a waiting game. It’s like can this thing be over? Can April be here? Can I get my playbook already? Can I start learning? Can I start doing what I’ve done for the last 4 or 5 years?” said former Notre Dame football standout Drue Tranquill.
Tranquill is one of several former Notre Dame players anxiously waiting to hear his name called this week in the 2019 NFL Draft.
His path from the high school gridiron to the NFL wouldn’t have happened without plenty of perseverance and encouragement throughout his five-year journey.
He switched between three different positions-safety, rover, and finally linebacker – all while navigating an obstacle course of injuries.
Tranquill tore the ACL in his left knee during his freshman season, and just a year later, he snapped that same ligament in his right knee.
He continued to fight to get back on the field and eventually led the Irish to their first ever College Football Playoff berth in his fifth and final season. Tranquill was later honored as the 2018 Wuerffel Trophy Recipient, a Senior Bowl Participant and Notre Dame’s Rockne Student Athlete Award.
While accepting the award honoring his leadership as a two-time captain, Tranquill addressed his teammates and coaches with this line: “I want to take some time to recognize someone who doesn’t get a lot of attention around here, and that’s my dear friend Keith Penrod.”
During his time on campus, Tranquill struck up a special friendship with Keith Penrod — also known as Notre Dame’s #1 fan.
“He’s a guy that when I was going through a tough time my freshman and sophomore years with my ACL’s,” added Tranquill, “He’s a guy that just sat there after practice and would just talk to me and uplift me and encourage me.”
Keith Penrod was only given 48 hours to live when he was born with cerebral palsy, but that was over 60 years ago. In his time on Earth, Penrod has found a special way to spread his message through the Irish family.
“I think Keith is an angel from heaven and I honestly believe that because he sees things and hears things that guys need to hear at the exact moment and time that he says them,” said Tranquill. “So there have been moments in my career where I’ve just been struggling with injury, being away from my family, or going through a 4-8 season. Just all the ups and downs that have come with my experience here and he’s just been here to give me the right word, the encouragement that I need.”
Penrod helped Tranquill in his fight to get back on the field as he recovered from his knee surgeries.
Tranquill had no idea that he would eventually be able to return the favor to the Irish’s biggest fan.
Earlier this fall, Penrod was hit by a car and has spent the entire year rehabbing a broken ankle.
“He was just driving home after one of our practices and he always stays so late to hang out with us and was driving home in the dark,” said Tranquill. “Someone backed into him and broke his leg and so obviously having cerebral palsy his body isn’t in the best shape as is. His recovery process is just much longer and he’s been in the hospital all year.”
And a lot like the athletes that he counsels, Penrod has continued to fight.
He was released from the rehab center earlier this week, just in time to watch his favorite Irish football stars on their big night.
“Keith is Notre Dame because he’s Notre Dame, win or lose,” said Tranquill. “He’s Notre Dame when we’re 4-8. He’s Notre Dame when we’re 12-0. Keith Penrod has a passion for this family. He’s just the definition of a guy pursuing excellence in everything he does and looking to others and not himself.”