Remembering Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III
A little over 24 hours after Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis was fired from his post in 2009, Jacksonville, Fla., native Louis Nix III gave his pledge to attend Notre Dame — even before a new boss was named to lead the operation.
When does that ever happen?
Before he ever suited up at Notre Dame, Nix already provided a unique touch and personality.
The Fighting Irish were reeling with four consecutive losses to end the 2009 campaign, and were 16-21 overall from 2007-09. Thus, Nix’s surprising decision became a ray of sunshine from The Sunshine State. It prompted us at Blue & Gold Illustrated to feature him on the front cover of its annual recruiting edition.
After all, in the new era with head coach Brian Kelly — who was hired a week after Nix’s commitment — Nix received the highest national ranking from Rivals (No. 85) in what would be Kelly's recruiting debut at Notre Dame.
Right behind Nix at No. 86 was offensive tackle Matt James, who would tragically die during spring break that April in Florida before he ever suited up for the Irish.
This Saturday it was discovered that the 29-year-old Nix also had died far too young, and just two months after he evaded death while surviving a gunshot to the chest when he was pumping air into his automobile tires at a gas station in his hometown. It is another of those shocking, heartbreaking news-flash moments that take your breath away and humbles you to the core on mortality and the fragility of life on earth.
Originally a Miami commitment, Nix became enamored with Notre Dame during separate visits to the campus, trading in familiarity and a warm climate to challenge himself athletically, academically and socially beyond his comfort zone.
The impact wasn’t felt right away. Listed at a generous 350 pounds when he enrolled as a freshman, Nix acknowledged later in his career that the number was about 15 to 20 pounds under reality, and he deemed it a moral victory his initial season when he could get past pre-practice stretching workouts.
He was issued No. 67 that year, too, a “boring” number he had changed to No. 9 as a sophomore to showcase his newly streamlined 326-pound figure and replace the graduated four-year starting nose tackle and six-year NFL player Ian Williams.
Nothing in defensive coordinator’s Bob Diaco’s 3-4 alignment was more vital than a powerful, space-eating nose tackle who could control the middle and command an offense’s attention with double teams to help elevate the play of the rest of the unit.
As just a sophomore, Nix proved more than a capable heir to Williams while also pacing the Irish linemen in tackles with 45, 12 more than anyone else in his position group. A defense that just two years earlier to close out the Weis era ranked 86th nationally and 63rd in scoring improved to top 30 in both categories.
And then in 2012 came the single-most dominant regular season by the Irish defense in 32 years, or head coach Dan Devine’s final season in 2012.
Middle linebacker Manti Te’o deservedly gained the national accolades, safety Zeke Motta was named Defensive MVP (Te’o was named Team MVP) for controlling/leading the inexperienced secondary, and Stephon Tuitt with his 12 sacks became the first Notre Dame sophomore defensive lineman to earn first- or second-team All-America notice.
Yet nobody was more valuable iduring the 12-0 regular season than Nix’s work in the middle. He didn’t merely occupy blockers to help free up dominant forces such as Te’o and Tuitt, but he was a playmaker in his own right at a position where mere stats don’t tell the full story.
Once again Nix paced the line in tackles (50), was third in stops behind the line of scrimmage (7.5) — and first in passes broken up with five. The Notre Dame offense that year averaged only 25.8 points per game, easily the lowest through Kelly’s 11 seasons, and was carried by an Irish defense that allowed a paltry 10.3 points per contest.
After five straight years with at least five losses, the 2012 Cinderella campaign saw the Irish week after week win by scores of 13-6, 20-3, 20-17, 17-14, 20-13 (in overtime), 21-6... while ascending the ranks.
Yet where Nix was just as valued was with a personality and effervescence as big as his frame. He became the most popular media request because he had no rehearsals about “know your clichés” and spoke what was on his mind.
What made the defense so dominant?
“You get sick of being on the field so long,” Nix replied. “You’re so tired, you’re just ready to go and sit on the bench and get some water, and these guys are trying to score, so you have to stop them to get some water.”
Any other motivation?
“You just have to want the water,” repeated Nix.
When the 8-0 Irish prepared to face an Oklahoma team that was 79-4 at home in its last 83 games, Nix was at his finest. Just the sight of him walking into the media room elicited smiles.
“Norman?” Nix beamed when asked about the Sooners, noting their hometown. “That’s where dreams go to die, I heard.”
In an instant, the grin turned into a scowl.
“We’ll see about that,” he continued, prior to the 30-13 Irish victory. “I’ll still eat my Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I’ll still be cranky in the morning. It won’t change too much for me.”
Yet it was the following week versus Pitt where Nix’s value was especially on display. Laid up in the infirmary during the week with an illness, Nix missed most of the game while the Irish fell behind 20-6, but his insertion in the second half helped turn around the momentum and the Irish ultimately prevailed in three overtimes, 29-26.
It takes all kinds of personalities to facilitate team chemistry, and Nix credited often underrated fifth-year senior lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore for keeping him on an even keel.
“I get upset a lot,” Nix said. “When things go wrong I get an attitude. I’m a big, angry guy inside sometimes when it comes to football, but he cools me down and keeps me level-headed.
“That’s the type of leadership we need — somebody to keep everybody like me in sync, keep everybody stable, and just stay in the game. That’s how we end up winning games. Guys like that keep us in line and make sure we just stay focused on what we try to accomplish, and that’s winning.”
In his senior season, Nix switched from No. 9 to No. 1 and fantasized about playing quarterback in what he called “The Irish Chocolate Package” — and Kelly humored him with it in the spring game.
A torn meniscus cut short Nix’s senior season, and dropped his draft status from potential first round to third round (83rd overall pick), and he had a short-lived three-year career in the NFL with continued knee issues.
Sadly, his time on earth was also short-lived, but not before bringing joyful memories and positive impact to so many at Notre Dame and beyond. Rest ye well.
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