NOTRE DAME — Some might call it masochism, but Louis Nix calls it motivation.
Even seven months later, even on the brink of a new season with a blank slate before him, Nix watches film of the Notre Dame-Alabama national championship game three times a week.
But it’s more about learning than it is about self-torture.
“I don’t want that to happen again,” Nix said. “(The game) wasn’t how anyone expected it to be. You just got to remember those things. You don’t want that to happen again. You want to be competitive. You want to go out and do great things. Twelve-and-oh is all great, but we lost when it counts.”
He acknowledges that the Irish “did horrible” in the 41-14 loss to Alabama in January, but he also says that he saw something in the second half that makes him confident the Irish can make another run at a perfect season. A spark, maybe. A sign of hope.
“We still have the same guys on the team,” he said. “We still have that mental toughness that got us to 12-0. Hopefully we can get to 13-0 at some point.”
It’s going to be tough. Nix noted that even Alabama didn’t finish undefeated, even though “they deserved” to win the national championship.
For the 6-foot-2.5, 357-pound nose guard who comes into his senior season at the peak of Notre Dame player popularity polls, the first thing he can do to help the Irish get to that point is simply be on the field more.
He largely flew under the radar outside of South Bend last season but still registered 50 tackles (7.5 for a loss) and two sacks as a junior. Nix’s popularity grew when he and fellow Irish defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt were projected as first-round NFL Draft picks on Mel Kiper Jr.’s “Big Board” in May.
The Notre Dame preseason roster lists Nix as 31 pounds heavier than he was in 2012, but Nix and head coach Brian Kelly insist that the nose guard is in the best shape of his playing career.
“I feel like I’m leaner than I was last year,” Nix said. “I feel better. Healthier, great blood pressure, knees don’t hurt as much, back is all right. I’m just ready to hit the field and start the season.”
Kelly said that Nix worked with strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo over the summer to increase the volume of downs he can play.
“When your best player is on the field every snap, you’re a better football team,” Kelly said of Nix. “He committed to that. That’s him making that conscious decision that he wanted to be that guy.”
Nix is entering what will likely be his final year with Notre Dame (He is eligible for a fifth). He isn’t jumping to the reins of leadership, maintaining that he’s “just going to be Louis. If that makes me a leader, then whatever,” but Kelly knows to expect great things from Nix this year.
“It’s his chance to make his mark,” Kelly said. “It’s his opportunity to help lead a football team back to a championship. He knows it can be done. So then it becomes on him to be that guy on the field every snap.”