A bye week would usually mean a Saturday off for Louis Nix. Perhaps he would join some teammates for a day-trip to Chicago, or simply spend the day on a couch watching teams he usually misses due to his own game preparation.
This past bye week, however, meant an even busier Saturday than usual for the senior defensive tackle. In order to graduate this December, Nix picked up a one-credit class -- giving him 19 for the semester, four more than the typical workload -- which met from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Even with that credit and subsequent winter graduation, Nix's departure is far from a foregone conclusion, at least, if you believe the source himself.
"It's up in the air right now. Who knows?" Nix asked rhetorically during the bye week. "I don't know the future, and I don't think you guys do. It's just something to keep thinking about. I love this place. Who wouldn't want to come back for a fifth year at Notre Dame?"
After red-shirting his freshman season, Nix has the option of a fifth year. After his performance the last three seasons, he also has the option of entering an NFL Draft where he is expected to be selected in the first round, possibly as high as the top 10. In many respects, Nix faced the same decision a year ago, but he would have been departing minus both a degree and a Senior Day moment with his mother, Stephanie Wingfield.
Wingfield missed his high school version of the ceremony due in part to a work schedule and in part to Nix not alerting her to the opportunity. Now with a year of warning, she'll be in South Bend this Saturday to see what could be Nix's last home game, though hopefully she won't see snow.
"It'll be more special to her than to me," Nix said. "They still are excited about me being in college and doing the things I'm doing. I think they're going to have more fun than I am.
"I'm going to tell my momma about (last week's snowfall). She'll probably be bittersweet. Being from Florida, you see 'Home Alone' and stuff, you see the snow falling, it looks magical. The first time I picked up a snowball, I was like, 'Ahhh, it's freezing,' and I threw it back down. I think she'll just be happy she saw it but she won't enjoy the snow."
Despite the additional classes and bothersome snow, the biggest obstacle between Nix and graduation this year has been a struggle to simply get through his classes. Traditionally, some students play hooky while others quietly snore through lectures. Nix's difficulty has been a bit more fundamental: Due to a slight meniscus tear and tendinitis in his left knee, sitting for long periods of time gets to be painful.
"It's something that bothers me all the time," he said. "Sometimes I can't even sit in class. I have to stand up because your knee can't be at a 90-degree angle because you always have to be moving. I'll stand up in class, or just shake it and people will look at me."
Nix missed the wins over Air Force and Navy after undergoing PRP (platelet-rich plasma) therapy, and the non-surgical procedure has reduced the tendinitis symptoms. Nonetheless, Nix will most likely undergo surgery after the season.
"The first rule about injuries is we don't talk about injuries. The second thing is I don't care whether I'm going to get hurt or not. If I felt well enough to go out and play, I'd have gone out and played."
Oftentimes, an injury scare would seal the deal. Nix's entry into the NFL Draft would no longer be a presumed inevitability, but rather a certain reality. The Florida-native insists the decision has neither been made nor strongly considered just yet.
When his phone chirps out a well-known deodorant jingle, he declines any interests in endorsements, as next year he may be playing for a University that already sells its own cologne. When it is suggested he miss a few more games to preserve his health for the next level, Nix points out, "Louis Nix is not a selfish guy."
"That's not my mindset. My mindset is on winning that game," Nix said. "I just want to win, go have a blast, wear a black jersey -- I'm just kidding -- I just want to go out and win the game. I want all my seniors, the guys that aren't coming back, to go out with a win."
In specifying he wants a win for the seniors not coming back, Nix opened the figurative door for the usual media horde to ask him, for the third time in 20 minutes, if he is part of that group or not. With the third time being the charm, Nix opted to turn the question back on the inquisitive and repetitive media.
"If you guys had the opportunity, would you come back to Notre Dame?" Nix asked. "Who wouldn't want to be here another year, just sit around and party (he laughs). It's something to think about right now. I'm not sure, to be honest. It's something to consider. We've got a lot of good guys coming back and potentially have our Everett (Golson) coming back."
If Nix returns for a fifth year -- with a Film, Television and Theater degree in his hand and a Senior Day memory in his mind -- he'll be returning to snowfall, injury concerns and graduate school. He'll also be returning to what Irish head coach Brian Kelly calls "the air of Notre Dame."
"Where I come from, you don't meet a lot of people. You see the same things. It's kind of a hard life where I'm at," Nix said before continuing to what made his Irish transition successful.
"Then I started to adjust to it. I made new friends, met new people, went new places. I just enjoyed it. If I would have come in the wintertime, I probably wouldn't have liked it, but I'm glad I came in the fall."