Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly reflects on life of Louis Nix III

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

When Brian Kelly sent a tweet Saturday morning asking for help locating former Notre Dame defensive lineman Louis Nix III, the Irish football coach worried it was too late.

By Saturday night, the Jacksonville (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office announced that Nix had been located and Nix’s mother, Stephanie Wingfield, shared with Jacksonville news outlets that her son was found dead after he was reported missing three days earlier.

“When Louis can’t be found, you’re worrying,” Kelly said Monday of his jovial former player. “We were concerned. Friday we thought about putting something out and then Saturday when we got it out, we felt like we were hoping for something good to happen and waiting for something bad at the same time. Devastated that something like this could happen to such a young man with such promise and so much to give.”

Police had not released further details surrounding Nix’s death as of Monday evening.

“They did say that it didn’t look like foul play,” Wingfield told The Florida Times-Union on Sunday.

Kelly took time Monday afternoon to speak with reporters about the loss of Nix, 29, and reflect on his impact at Notre Dame.

“We know that we’ve lost somebody way too early and we’re certainly devastated by it,” Kelly said. “We’re all asking the same questions, but there will be peace for him. We’re doing all we can to help the family at this time.”

Nix signed with the Irish in Kelly’s first recruiting class at Notre Dame in 2011. Nix had privately given his verbal commitment to Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis before he was fired. Nix’s commitment became public shortly before Kelly was named Notre Dame’s next coach in December 2010.

Soon after being hired, Kelly made a trip to Jacksonville Raines High School to visit Nix.

“He did not disappoint: big fella, big personality, big smile,” Kelly recalled Monday. “At that time, he relayed to me why he was coming to Notre Dame. He wanted to do something that nobody else ever thought that he would do and that is leave Jacksonville, leave the city and graduate from Notre Dame.”

Nix is believed to be the first student from Raines, a historically Black high school that opened in 1965, to be admitted to Notre Dame. The success Nix found during his Notre Dame career, which led to him being selected in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans and receiving his Notre Dame degree days later, taught Kelly that his recruiting didn’t need to be limited to high schools that typically produced Notre Dame students.

“Louis kind of began to unravel that myth that you needed to go to a profile school,” Kelly said. “No you didn’t. What you needed was the want and the desire to not only prove that you were capable, but that you wanted something more. And he did.

“He came here with the expressed purpose of wanting something more and wanting a degree from Notre Dame and wanting to prove to a lot of people that somebody could come out of a non-profile school or an inner-city public school. He made that statement.

“That has continued to grow in the sense that we’ve been able to see more and more players come through our program that are quote-unquote ‘not part of those profile schools’ and do exceedingly well here. Louis began to open up that pathway for many of the student-athletes.”

Nix, who played his senior season at 6-foot-2 and 342 pounds, struggled to stay healthy in his NFL career, which spanned three years with four teams and never resulted in a regular season game appearance.

Nix was working for Cintas Corp. in Jacksonville before his death. On Dec. 8 of last year, Nix was the victim of an armed robbery attempt at a Jacksonville gas station. He suffered a fractured sternum, was left with a bullet lodged in his left lung and spent 11 days in the hospital.

Wingfield wondered if her son’s death was caused by a heart attack or some other medical emergency related to the recent shooting.

“It’s all a mystery right now until they give me more information about what happened,” Wingfield told The Times-Union.

The answers won’t change how Kelly remembers Nix.

“We can look back on his time here and know that there was a spirit, there was an energy, there was a vibrant young man that passed through these hallways here,” Kelly said. “That’s what we choose to remember.”

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, right, said he was devastated to learn of the passing of former player Louis Nix III, left.
Louis Nix is shown at Houston’s training camp at the Methodist Training Center on Aug. 2, 2015 in Houston.