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Louis Nix & The Rare Air

The logical decision for Louis Nix last week at Pitt was to sit out and protect his potential million-dollar investment. After receiving Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injections for the tendonitis in his ailing knee — exacerbated by a torn meniscus that will eventually require surgery — Nix had to sit out the Air Force (Oct. 26) and Navy (Nov. 2) games.

Louis Nix III became a better man with all his experiences at Notre Dame.

It wouldn’t have hurt to sit out the Pitt game either on Nov. 9, especially with a bye week ensuing. But logic is not necessarily Nix’s forte. The Jacksonville, Fla., native was logically never supposed to end up at Notre Dame in the first place. He originally committed to Miami, came from Raines High School which was “99 percent black,” according to Nix, and even announced for the Irish in the interim between head coach Charlie Weis’ firing and Brian Kelly’s hiring. Nobody does that … but again, logic is not Nix’s major.

When he could have been a high draft pick after his junior year when he helped Notre Dame to the BCS Championship, and provide instant financial windfall to a family of 11 younger siblings and half siblings in a three-bedroom home, he bypassed the temptation to keep working on his degree. He also wanted his parents, Stephanie Wingfield and Louis Nix, to greet him on Senior Day at midfield. On his Senior Day at Raines, nobody greeted Nix because his mother had to work that night at a hospital cafeteria.

The easy thing to do was sit out against Pitt and save himself for the NFL Draft, where he is projected as a top-10 pick on Mel Kiper Jr.’s “Big Board.” So naturally, Nix played on 63 of the 76 snaps Pitt’s offense had. He had to be helped off the field one time, but kept fighting the good fight.

“Louis Nix is not a selfish guy,” said Nix, going into third-person form. “He’s a guy that loves his brothers, his teammates, his coaches …Selfishly, I wanted to go out and play for myself. I like playing the game and I don’t like being on the sidelines. It’s hard to see guys go out there and play. You wish you could be out there making plays they’re making.”

The knee pain had even forced Nix to stand in his classes because the knee can’t be at a 90-degree angle. Nix emphasizes that no one is forcing him to play, other than himself.

“They haven’t put me at risk, which I like, and they’re making sure I’m ready to go,” Nix said. “It’s been all my decision.”

He refused to take out any insurance policies prior to his senior year because he doesn’t want to be paying back loans. If he had been injured, so be it.

“I don’t care about whether I’m going to get hurt or not,” Nix said. “I felt well to go out and play.”

Four years ago, Nix was a poorly conditioned 367-pound project who had to undergo extreme social, academic, physical and cultural change. Next month, he is on schedule to receive his Notre Dame degree in film, television and theatre, after taking 19 credit hours this semester (the minimum requirement is 12, and seldom more than 15). He is even taking a class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday to bolster his credit hours. He is maximizing every opportunity presented to him.

“A lot of people, from where I’m from, they don’t have that,” Nix said. “I have something to fall back on besides football. That’s not all I think about. I love media, I love TV, I love being in front of the camera, I love working with the camera. That’s something I might want to take up. … I’m glad I have another outlet besides football.”

Growing up, Nix saw an older brother get killed and classmates get shot and killed, and many others close to him get swallowed up by a negative environment. He is thankful that numerous family members kept him on the straight and narrow — for the most part — while growing up.

“I was around a lot of stuff and I wanted to go out and do that type of stuff because that’s what you are around,” Nix said. “But I always had people around me that pushed me to just do better, like you have an opportunity and I’m lucky enough to have those opportunities in my life.”

He chose Notre Dame in part to get out of his comfort zone back home.

“I think when you come on campus and you breathe the air at Notre Dame, it has a tendency to help you,” said Kelly of why the Nix situation worked. “So 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.

“When you cut right to it, it worked, because Louis Nix wanted it to work, because there are other stories that came in and it didn’t work for them, and I think it’s a great story.”

“Just everything around here helped me get to where I am,” said Nix, echoing Kelly’s thoughts. “Your family [isn’t] going to be here, but I had my brothers [on the team] stick with me, I had coach stick with me, and just people at Notre Dame in the community. Even the teachers, they didn’t make work easier for me, but they helped me adjust. They showed me ways to improve myself, write a better paper, better study habits …I think that helped me build a foundation to where I am now.

“It was different, culture shock somewhat for me coming from where I don’t meet a lot of people. You see the same things, it’s kind of a hard life where I’m at. You see these people from different places … and then I started to adjust to it, made new friends, met new people, went new places, and I just enjoyed it.”

The first winter made it even tougher than it already was.

“You see ‘Home Alone’ and stuff and see snow falling and you’re like, ‘Yeah, it looks magical,’ ” Nix said. “Then you get here, my first time picking up a snowball, I’m like, ‘Aw, it’s freezing.’ I threw it down.”

A favorite pastime with Nix has been yanking the media’s chain. He did it even this week by declaring he hasn’t made up his mind on whether to return for his fifth season or turn pro.

“Half of y’all thought I was leaving last year,” he noted. “It’s just something to think about. It will be a big decision for me and my family.”

Later, when asked if he’d like to be inserted at quarterback for one play in the home finale like he was in the spring game, the wistful look came into Nix’s eyes.

“I think it would be a good idea,” Nix said. “I wouldn’t mind going back in for one last time.”

“One last time?” asked a member of the member.

Nix broke down laughing, realizing his faux pas and that it will be interpreted that BYU will be his last home game.

Whenever he will announce his official decision, Nix knows one of the most important roles from here on out is to give back to his own community back home and help others receive the same chances he did. He cherishes the title “role model.”

“To me it means being an upstanding guy,” said Nix of what it will mean to earn his Notre Dame degree. “Me going through life … I know people make mistakes and people do things that people think are [not] upstanding, but sometimes you get a chance to change that.

“I wasn’t this wholesome guy you see right now my whole life, but when I got to Notre Dame that all changed. I’ve met people, I’ve gotten along with people, I make people laugh, and that’s what I like to do. I just like to be a friendly, cool guy now. When you go out and be yourself, just be one those guys, you can just be a role model to kids, or just put a smile on somebody’s face, you can just give them a hug, a high five.”

It’s a story that describes the mission statement of Notre Dame.

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