Justin Tranquill has been manning the secondary of Kalamazoo for quite some time. The strong safety landed on campus as Western Michigan’s first-ever 4-star recruit in 2015 — the middle of the P.J. Fleck era. Fast forward four years and Tranquill still remains the heart of the Broncos’ defense as the team’s veteran senior leader.
It wasn’t an easy path for Tranquill. ACL tears have been a constant roadblock throughout the Fort Wayne, IN, native’s journey. He has endured three ACL tears — one in high school and two at Western Michigan, four games into 2015 and two games into 2017 — but despite the injuries, Tranquill continues to succeed on the gridiron. Justin’s brother Drue, a rookie outside linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers and Notre Dame graduate, suffered a similar fate with two major ACL injuries in 2014 and 2015. Every time an injury hits, a Tranquill brother seems to persevere. Drue powered through the adversity and was selected as a fourth round pick in the NFL Draft last April. Now, it’s Justin’s turn to follow suit in his senior season.
Justin Tranquill played all 13 games for Western Michigan last season and started in 12. The hard-hitting safety recorded 82 tackles in 2018, just seven shy of his career-high from the Broncos’ near-perfect 2016 season. Tranquill led all Bronco defenders in solo tackles in 2018 (58) and finished second among his teammates in 2016 (63). He finished 10th in the conference in solo tackles last season, ranking in the top 10 of the category for the second time in his collegiate career. Tranquill has only played two complete seasons, so when on the field, he’s been an absolute force as a tackler.
Tranquill intercepted his first pass in 2018, picking off Tommy Lazzaro in the second quarter in a 35-10 win over rival Central Michigan. He heightened his coverage skills and ability to invade backfields, adding two passes defended and 1.5 tackles for loss in his bounce-back season. Despite a bitter end to the year for Western Michigan, Tranquill finished strong with eight tackles in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl loss to BYU.
The senior has seen it all at Western Michigan. Tranquill was an integral part of the 2016 MAC Championship/Cotton Bowl team under Fleck. He’s also witnessed several crucial personnel changes during his time in Kalamazoo including the hire of Tim Lester in the offseason of 2017. Tranquill will be working with a new full-time defensive coordinator this season in Lou Esposito, who was promoted to the position following Tim Daoust’s firing last November.
Tranquill completed his Bachelor’s of Business degree in the spring of 2019, so he’ll be playing for Western Michigan as a graduate student. His off-the-field successes have been well-documented, garnering him two Academic All-MAC selections. He has yet to appear on an All-MAC team but when healthy, there aren’t too many defensive backs in the conference that dominate in the box in the manner that Tranquill does.
Tranquill will have one more season in Kalamazoo, entering with hopes of leading the Broncos back to their first conference title since his redshirt freshman season. Western Michigan’s best tackling safety retakes the field as a senior August 31 when Monmouth visits Waldo Stadium.