Notre Dame football: Nix a different player and person

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - True appreciation of Louis Nix III, the football player, can’t be accomplished by perusing a stat sheet.

There’s much more to the man, the myth, and the soon-to-be legend.

A sprawling 6-foot-3, 357-pound bundle of whoop-butt is an anchor to the Notre Dame defense who is growing into a man right before our eyes.

Gone is the selfish, me-first adolescent who wasn’t shy about pouting when the situation didn’t go his way.

This, his senior season, is the year the nose tackle’s attitude and demeanor are finally catching up with his amazing athletic talent.

When teams like Purdue, Saturday night’s opponent, devise an offensive game plan against Notre Dame, Nix is one of the first challenges to be considered.

“The thing that impresses me about (Nix) is to watch him run down and chase the ball at (357) pounds,” said Purdue coach Darrell Hazell. “You wouldn’t think a guy that big plays with so much energy down the field, but he does a great job.”

“Louis Nix was a beast,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said, evaluating Nix’s play against Michigan last week. “They couldn’t block him. (He) played as well as he’s played for us. (Michigan) just had no answers for him inside.”

Yet, Nix’s numbers — four tackles, one tackle for loss, two offside penalties and an unsportsmanlike conduct flag — were hardly imposing.

That’s when Nix — the total player — must be considered. What’s not obvious in the stats is the fact that on more than half of Michigan’s offensive snaps, Nix was double-teamed. That sign of respect, ideally, should open up someone else on the Irish defense to make plays.

Notre Dame yielded 40 points, 460 yards and had just one sack against the Wolverines, so it’s not like the Irish capitalized on the attention.

However, Nix handled the frustration that goes along with being singled out as a weapon of mass destruction. Some healthy doses of maturity this year have allowed him to deal with the situation better than previous years.

“I’ve been more impressed with his demeanor (this season),” Kelly said. “Last year, the year before, it was hard to communicate with him (on the sidelines) because he got so frustrated. It’s been really impressive, his maturity.”

“Based on the defense we run, my job is to take double-teams,” Nix said. “I just do my job. If I have to step up and do more, I’ll do more. Now, I’ll just take my double-teams as I get them.

“We had (linebacker) Manti (Te’o), a great player, (last year). He got all the credit for everything. You know me, I always wanted my name out there. I just took it how it was. That’s just my job.

“On the sidelines, when we got down or we got in a funk, I got frustrated, especially when I didn’t make the play or do anything about it. Now, I’ll communicate with my coaches and teammates more than getting mad about the whole situation.

“We try to talk things out; sit down and evaluate it without getting too frustrated.

“It just came as the years went by. It evolved. If you don’t get too much of a hothead, you can focus more.”

Someone seems to have kidnapped that happy-go-lucky Louis Nix, and left in his place a somber fellow who appears to be aware that his college football clock is ticking. Last spring, he was the darling of the Blue-Gold Game when Kelly gave him a snap at quarterback that Nix earned by his academic success, and he responded by rumbling for a two-point conversion.

A media darling because he has thoughts and a personality to express them, Nix had been limited to one interview opportunity throughout the preseason and early games before this week.

“He has not spoken to the media a lot because he wanted to focus on being the best football player,” Kelly said.

Nix had his own explanation.

“I just wanted to get my mind right,” he said of his silence. “Lot of stuff home; lot of stuff school. I’m trying to get out of here (with a degree) in December. Trying to get my credits; get my work in order.

“I miss you guys (in the media). It’s nothing against you guys. I just had to get a lot of things off the field in order. I should have all my credits by the end of the semester.”

Kelly said that Nix’s “professionalism has been outstanding,” but the big man had some trouble digesting and justifying those penalties against Michigan.

“I can’t be itching to get off the ball,” Nix said. “Personal foul? I got level-headed after that. I got myself together. The offsides? I can’t be too anxious to hit somebody. That’s what I did in the Michigan game. I think I’ve got that in order.

“We probably needed that loss, just to bounce back. Coming out last year, got to the national championship (game), we needed that. We watched film. We evaluated it. We didn’t play Notre Dame football. That will set us in the right direction. I know I don’t want to lose again.”

Nix may be somewhat misunderstood. Once the jovial large mascot who might someday be a factor, he’s now the preseason All-American, No. 3 on Mel Kiper’s draft board, and an athlete loaded with expectations.

“I really don’t like (the hype),” a very serious Nix said. “People say I’m an All-American, whatever. They expect me to make 10 tackles. I don’t think they really watch me. Last year, I barely made a tackle a game (actually, 50 tackles, 7.5 for loss, two sacks). I don’t think people know exactly what I do. I get frustrated with that. People expect me to make Manti(-esque) tackles and interceptions (numbers). That’s not my job.

“It’s whatever ... I just go out there and do my job — take up some double-teams, make plays when I have to.”

Maturity might enhance his performance, but it sure takes a lot of the fun out of Nix.

Notre Dame's Louis Nix III, left, moves in on Michigan QB Devin Gardner during the Notre Dame vs. Michigan game on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. SBT photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN