Louis Nix fills in the blanks on his early exit from Notre Dame
“House of Beauty,” the unconvincing falsetto voice on the other end of the phone answered the call on Wednesday.
Leave it to Louis Nix to actually leave one wondering whether it was an actual punch line or if that’s the former Notre Dame nose guard’s interpretation of himself these days.
Much less ambiguous were Nix’s reasons he finally revealed why he signed with an agent so early that it voided his chance to go to New York City for the Dec. 28 Pinstripe Bowl matchup with Rutgers, and all the pampering and pomp that went with it.
Nix, one of four early entries from Notre Dame for the 2014 NFL Draft (May 8-10 in New York) and the only one of them to leave with his degree in hand, had been ruled out of playing in the game once he underwent surgery on his left knee, Nov. 21, to repair a torn meniscus that he had been playing with for the better part of a calendar year.
The end of his amateur status in early December, by signing with Todd France and Brian Ayrault of 5-Star Management, meant Nix couldn’t tag along as part of ND coach Brian Kelly’s entourage or receive the windfall of bowl swag the other Irish players collected, including a PlayStation 4.
“People might not understand, but the reason I signed with an agent was it was the best means to get the best care for my knee,” said Nix, who flew to Atlanta shortly before Christmas to get some intensive rehab in.
“My teammates knew about it. They understood. Everybody was like, ‘Louis you should get healthy.’ They encouraged me to do what was best for my health, and it killed me not to be with them.
“I spent Christmas by myself in a hotel room. I spent New Year’s by myself in a hotel room. It would have been a lot of fun to be running around in New York, but I just wanted to get back and get healthy.”
Which is how the Jacksonville, Fla., native feels now as he spends his days working out at EXOS (formerly Athletes’ Performance Institute) in Phoenix while preparing for the NFL Combine late next month in Indianapolis.
The 6-foot-3, 357-pounder (before his recent salad-laden diet) hasn’t fully committed to participating in the full round of physical testing at the combine, though he’s strongly leaning in that direction barring an injury. Nor has he actually received an invitation, but expects one to arrive in the next few days.
But Nix wants to be physically ready in the likely event those two things align themselves.
“I can do everything now — lift, bench, squat, position drills,” he said. “Leg strength is good. I think I’m pretty much 100 percent. I probably could be in better condition, but I always think that. But I think I’m up to par so far.
“Last season I never was right. I got hurt in the Alabama game (Jan. 8, 2013). Before last season, we decided I would try to play on it, play through it through the season. And I hoped I would be able to make it all the way through.
“I can’t put a percentage on my efficiency, but I can say I was never 100 percent. I just wasn’t myself. I’m all about playing for my teammates, no matter what. That was my mind-set until the pain wouldn’t let me do that anymore.”
Nix missed five games with the injury, a five-tackle performance against Pitt on Nov. 9 the only action he saw after ND’s 14-10 victory over USC on Oct. 19. The preseason All-American’s numbers were way down from 2012, even when you factor in the missed games.
He had 27 tackles, two of them for loss; two pass deflections, two quarterback hurries and zero sacks in 2013. In ND’s 2012 run to the national title game, Nix collected 50 tackles, including 7½ for loss; two sacks, five pass deflections, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
Still draft analysts, such as ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., and Todd McShay consistently listed Nix in the top 15, if not top 10, draft prospects virtually all season long. Until recently, that is, when Nix made a drop into the 20s for Kiper and from No. 4 to 17 for McShay, with no new event or information seemingly to precipitate that.
Three Irish players, including Nix, showed up in Kiper’s round one mock draft that he revealed Wednesday — Nix at 15 to the Steelers, rising offensive tackle Zack Martin at 20 to Arizona and junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt 23rd to Kansas City.
A mock on NFL.com Wednesday had Martin 19th to Miami, Nix 30th to San Francisco and Tuitt completely out of the first round.
Welcome to silly season, the part of the predraft process where smoke screens start to color the various mock drafts and even the most seemingly flawless players get their games dissected and ripped apart.
“My parents and I really are pretty ignorant about the draft process,” Nix said, “so we’re just taking the steps to learn more about it through the agents — what’s going to happen over the next few months and weeks.
“One thing that I know is coming is criticism. I’m prepared for that. People have actually criticized me from day one, for me being too big, that I won’t ever play, this and that. I’m here to take that criticism and better myself.
“I might not want to hear it at first, but I’ll be ready to take it in. I’m ready to hear what they say, what I don’t have in my game. When I get that information, that’ll be my way of showing them I can be a better pass rusher, and I’m not just a two-gap nose tackle, that I actually can get to the quarterback and I’m going to prove people wrong. I’m here to take the criticism and make it a positive.”
He knows the other members of the Irish draft class, likely to be the largest since 1994, will get their share too — including the three juniors who along with Nix are part of the largest underclassman contingent overall in draft history.
“To be honest, it surprised me that any and all of them came out,” Nix said of Tuitt, tight end Troy Niklas and running back George Atkinson III. “But I want them to know I’m behind them. And that’s what I’m going to miss the most about Notre Dame — grinding with my teammates every day.
“I love my guys. I love the school. I love the Notre Dame atmosphere. I love the students. The only thing I didn’t love about it was the cold. My mom loves it. My dad got to see if for the first time (Nov. 23 for Senior Day). And even though it was snowing, he loves it so much he still talks about it. I can’t wait to go back and see everybody, and I am going to do it.”
Nix is also determined to help his mom, Stephanie Wingfield, get knee replacement surgery she has put off for years, because she couldn’t afford it.
“If I’m lucky enough to get drafted — and anything can happen, I don’t take anything for granted — that’s the first thing I will look to do for my mom. She’s worked hard all of her life to put me in a position for this to happen for me. But whatever happens in the weeks ahead, I know she’ll keep supporting me and we’ll all be fine.”