Posted on April 8, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.
| Updated on April 8, 2013 at 3:45 p.m.
NOTRE DAME — Throw Louis Nix a bone, and he’ll come back with gold.
To put it one way: If Charles Barkley had a smaller ego and was a 347-pound collegiate nose guard, he’d interact with the media the way Nix does.
When asked about skipping spring break to work out with teammates in Arizona, Nix quipped that vacations can wait for when he has money instead of having to “ball on a budget.”
When asked why he switched from No. 9 to No. 1, Nix shrugged: “I thought it’d be entertaining. Big guy, small number — smaller number. Never seen it before, so I thought, why not?”
When asked about his weight jumping 21 pounds from last season, Nix dismissed the topic by saying, “People ask about my weight, and I’d thrown some random numbers out there. Realistically, I’d love to play at 280, but I’ll take 340 any day.”
Nix is plenty vocal in front of the cameras, but he wouldn’t classify himself as the voice of Notre Dame’s defense on the field.
Instead of passing along encouragement or — as head coach Brian Kelly puts it — giving “Knute Rockne speeches,” the nose guard operates with a more “tough love” approach, getting in his teammates’ heads and daring them to prove him wrong.
“I’m not the guy on the sidelines that says, ‘Let’s go team!’” Nix said. “It’s ‘Suck this .... up and let’s beat their ass.’ That’s the type of guy I am. I’m not the nice one. I’m the one that says a lot of negative stuff just to get in someone’s head.”
Coaches knew Nix had to make leadership strides in 2013, but not in the same way Manti Te’o, Kapron Lewis-Moore or Harrison Smith did. For that brand of leadership, Kelly knows he can count on Bennett Jackson, Matthias Farley, Dan Fox or Carlo Calabrese.
Nix has his own way of leading the team, and, according to defensive line coach Mike Elston, his teammates love him for it.
While Nix won’t take younger players under his wing in a traditional sense, he’ll banter with them and challenge them to play better. On the field, he might give his fellow linemen a rough time. In public, he’ll play them up, saying Sheldon Day has shaken off the initial shock of starting and is now stacking up head-to-head against Zack Martin and that backup lineman Tony Springmann is “versatile to no end.”
As Nix would say, “It’s the Louis Nix way.”
“He does his job, he comes to practice to get better, and he’s respected by his teammates because he’s a ferocious competitor,” Kelly said of his nose guard. “That’s what his teammates know about him, so they’re not looking to him for motivation. If you brought in Zack Martin right now, he would say, ‘I can count on that guy on Saturday.’ All the other stuff that goes on during the week and the chatter, let Louis be Louis. But they know on Saturday, he’s a ferocious competitor.”
Elston said that while Nix has improved on footwork and handwork, the soon-to-be-senior was already playing at a high level in 2012, pointing to Nix’s performance in the national championship game, combined with 50 season tackles (7.5 for a loss), two sacks and three quarterback hurries.
“I know being Louis Nix’s coach what I’m going to get from him on Saturday,” Elston said. “I’ve been a coach 14, 13 years now in Division I, (and) he’s one of the most ferocious competitors. Watch the Alabama game. He was competing on every single play. He’s a competitive young man who is trying to win the game.”
Despite the tough-love attitude, Nix does have a positive way of looking at January’s title loss to Alabama. Not only does he think he held his ground, but he thinks getting to the game shows tremendous growth from the team he was a part of as a freshman.
“We made a lot of progressions from where we were two, three years ago,” Nix said. “We were losing to Tulsa, now we’re losing to Alabama in the national championship game. I see things coming along. I’m not too worried about it, just keep pushing and making strides.”