NOTRE DAME — When Notre Dame took the field for its pre-game warmups against Pittsburgh, starting nose guard Louis Nix came out in sweatpants and a jacket instead of a full uniform.
Nix had been recovering from knee tendinitis that had kept him benched the past two games. Taking the field sans uniform was as sure a sign as any that he would be missing a third game.
Observers ignited Twitter with reporters that Nix wouldn’t dress, that Nix’s knee issue was more serious than head coach Brian Kelly was letting on. When Notre Dame came back out before the game, Nix was dressed in full gear and ended up playing more than 60 snaps in the loss to Pitt on Saturday, Nov. 9.
Without even saying a word, Nix had yet again willed his brand of humor on the rest of the college football world.
“That was intentional,” he grinned in a session with reporters the following Tuesday. “Going out on the field with sweats on, I just wanted to mess with you guys for a little bit.”
It’s the sense of humor reporters and fans have grown to expect from Nix during the past three years. The then-redshirt sophomore who battled with homesickness and an urge to go the way of former Irish defensive end Aaron Lynch blossomed into the soft-spoken yet forthright quote machine who rivaled Manti Te’o and Everett Golson for camera time.
Just 10 months before Notre Dame appeared in the BCS National Championship, Lynch jumped ship to return to Florida. Shortly after Lynch’s departure, Nix, a Tallahassee, Fla., native, Tweeted “Hopping on the Delta and might never come back.”
But Nix stayed in South Bend and went on to have one of the most dominating seasons of any nose guard in college football. He’ll take the field for senior day against Brigham Young, fulfilling a promise he made to his mother last year.
“I think when you come on campus and breathe the air of Notre Dame, it has a tendency to help you,” Kelly said. “Just being on this campus, being around the students, being around the faculty, being around the staff, you’re in an incredible environment of successful people. Success breeds success. (Louis is) around other football players and student athletes that are like-minded.
“Let’s not forget Louis’s goals. I think that’s central to this. Louis chose Notre Dame because he wanted more. He wanted that degree from Notre Dame. He could have gone anywhere. I think central to all of that is Louis Nix wanted a degree from Notre Dame. And he’s going to have one. When you cut right to it, it worked because Louis Nix wanted it to work. There’s other stories that came in and it didn’t work for them. I think it’s a great story.”
Nix is also primed for post-Notre Dame success.
He piled on 19 credit hours — including a nine-hour, one-credit course on Saturday during Notre Dame’s bye — this semester in order to graduate in December. He’ll walk the stage with a film, television and theater degree and a fierce determination to win a post-season football award.
He’s currently projected as a first round NFL draft pick by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.
But in typical Nix fashion, he won’t confirm that he’s leaving the team after this year. Not without having some fun first, anyway.
“It’s been a great four years for me, a potential fifth,” Nix said, pausing for effect.
A fifth year?
“It’s up in the air right now,” he said. “Who knows. It’s something to think about, I love this place. Who wouldn’t want to come back for a fifth year?
He chided doubtful reporters, adding, “Half of you didn’t think I was coming back last year.”
Wherever Nix ends up next year, he’ll likely bring that same easy comfort and relaxed humor that have become staples of his tenure at Notre Dame.
“I just try to make life happy,” he said, “to make people smile.”