Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 28 of 55 AUGUST 2020 29 ENTITLED TO NOTHING Tremble enjoyed every sport he played in grade school except one. Wrestling was a chore, and not because he was lacking in size or strength. No, he hated how much ev- eryone could pay attention to him. This sport was a shy kid's fever dream. "It was literally center stage," Abi- gail said. "It's you and one other guy, everyone's watching. He just could not stand that because he's not an individual-sport guy. "He wants to be on a team. He likes being in the mix." Football allowed him to be one of multiple attractions. And it was the family hobby. There were 10 team- mates with him, and he enjoyed their success, too. Abigail remembers see- ing him equally juiced after a friend's touchdown or tackle as one of his own. Even now, that's still the case. Af- ter the Camping World Bowl last year, Abigail remembers a particu- larly exuberant Tommy post-game despite his one-catch, nine-yard stat line. He spent much of the day block- ing to fuel Tony Jones Jr.'s 131-yard outburst, and he was elated because Jones was thrilled. Tremble took the same approach to his high school transfer before his senior year. After three years at Johns Creek (Ga.) High School in greater Atlanta, he spent his final one at The Wesleyan School, a private institu- tion. He began practice that summer already armed with Power Five of- fers, including one from the home- state Bulldogs, where Greg played. It would have been easy to feel like he owned the place. "He showed up without trying to big-time anyone or show up with a chip on his shoulder saying, 'I have 25 offers and you need to respect me,'" said his coach at Wesleyan, Franklin Pridgen. "He went to work and earned tremendous respect from his teammates because of the way he approached it. "He was the new guy and knew the rules applied to him like they do to everyone else." Turns out, Tremble was even hu- man. Pridgen understood he should use Tremble's athletic ability as often as possible, and that meant playing him on defense too. They chose line- backer to take advantage of his size and speed. After a one-week adjust- ment where he was too fast and over- running plays because of it, he took off. "Tommy saw where he could fit in to make everyone better," Prid- gen said. "Not steal the limelight, but play a role. Obviously, he had physical gifts that were tremendous. His size, speed and ability to change direction were on an elite level." But Tremble tantalized Pridgen and Wesleyan for all of six quarters. He remains one of Pridgen's great what- ifs. In the second game of the season, Tremble crumbled to the ground on the far side of the field after trying to make a tackle. His foot bent in an un- appetizing way, and he needed emer- gency surgery to repair it. His recruitment stayed at opti- mal mania, though. Tremble's size, speed and fluidity combination still intrigued college coaches who liked him at tight end and linebacker. "It's hard to say what he would have turned into if he played a full season at linebacker," Pridgen said. "But it would have been pretty spe- cial to watch." GIVE HIM AN OPPORTUNITY By nature of his chosen position, Tremble was the exception to the family tradition. His dad, grandfather and two un- cles who played in college all were defensive players. But Tommy had too much affinity for offense to stop playing it. Tight end just fit him. He stood out as a high school under- classman because he was bigger than everyone else. But neither he nor his parents were sure just how far it would take him. So Abigail sent Tommy's film to her brother, Bert Watts, now the linebackers coach at Memphis but then the defensive coordinator at UC Davis of the Football Championship Subdivision. She asked for an honest take on how seriously they should prepare for a recruiting process. "He goes, 'Uh, yeah. He's going to be really good,'" Abigail recalled. "I learned all about hip-flipping and what was important." The size, speed, agility and fluid- ity were apparent then to those who knew what they were looking for. Tremble teased the masses with them in his September audition. Playing in a game for the first time in two years in Notre Dame's 2019 season opener at Louisville, Tremble caught all three of his targets for 49 yards and a touchdown. Each reception was a first down or a score. The touchdown came midway through the third quarter, with Notre Dame up 21-14. Tremble lined up in the slot, soared right past a line- backer and cut inside toward the goal post 10 yards down the field when he saw a safety cheat over to senior wide receiver Chase Claypool's route on the boundary next to him. The play punctured Louisville's hopes of a win and inflated Notre Dame fans' hopes for him. For Tremble, it was a confirmation that he belonged in those moments. A redshirt year spent trying to smash through the freshman wall, head sometimes spinning at 10,000 RPMs, felt behind him. "Tommy's really coming on," then- offensive coordinator Chip Long said in September. "A very versatile guy, very explosive and physical for his size. He just needs to keep playing." On cue, the more he played in 2019, the more comfortable he grew block- ing and catching passes in front of 80,000 in the stands and many more on national television. Notre Dame kept him involved after Kmet's re- turn, often as a blocker and occasion- ally as a receiver. Both suited him. He played more snaps in the bowl game (35) than the season opener (31). If Long sensed any nerves, he had a go-to trick: get Tremble a touchdown. "He rides on that for about two weeks," Abigail said. Even Tremble knows touchdowns may become less rare this year. With a largely unproven crop of wide re- ceivers, Notre Dame needs him to be one of fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Book's most reliable targets from start to finish. Maybe Tremble will stop short of thinking about being a star because entitlement is not in his nature. But it's OK to want to be one. This same moment has brought recognition to plenty of Irish tight end predeces- sors. The moment is now his to seize. And as his taste of it last year taught him, it's not as scary as a wrestling match. "There are all these performers you hear about and you're like, 'Gee, I had no idea John Mellencamp was super shy,'" Abigail said. "But they love being on stage. That's the funny thing about Tommy. He's introverted, a wisecrack on the side. "But you give him an opportunity to perform and he loves it. He will rise to the occasion." ✦

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