Nix-ing NFL draft: Notre Dame nose guard will return in ’13
BY MARK LAZERUS Sun-Times Media December 19, 2012 12:04AM
SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 17: Louis Nix III #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Notre Dame Stadium on November 17, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Wake Forest 38-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Louis Nix III
Updated: January 20, 2013 6:27AM
SOUTH BEND — The very idea of Louis Nix III — all by himself — walking out onto the field during Senior Night at Raines High School in Jacksonville, Fla., brought Stephanie Wingfield to tears. Made her angry, too. She hated that she hardly ever got to see her not-so-little boy play football. And she hated the idea that the fans in the stands would be scoffing and speculating as to why Nix had neither parent by his side, while the other kids were all flanked by Mom and Dad.
But with 13 kids — eight of them young enough to be shoehorned into a three-bedroom house and only one of them old enough to have a job of his own — and with Nix’s dad largely out of the picture, Wingfield couldn’t afford to give up a Friday night shift at the hospital cafeteria. Not for any game. Not even for Senior Night.
“Doesn’t pay much, but we do what we can,” Nix said of his mom’s modest gig.
What does pay a lot is a job in the NFL — a job that is entirely attainable for Nix, Notre Dame’s affable giant and a likely early- to mid-round draft pick. Nix’s stated goal when he arrived at Notre Dame was to go to the NFL as soon as possible so he could support his struggling family. But Irish coach Brian Kelly announced Monday that Nix — along with standout tackle Zack Martin — would be forgoing the NFL draft and returning to school next season. Tailback Cierre Wood is still weighing his options.
Nix’s biggest reason for staying? Mom wants to finally make that walk. The money can wait.
“She called me every day — ‘I can’t wait to walk on the field with you for Senior Day,’ ” said Nix, a redshirt sophomore. “That’ll make her happy. We’ve been surviving this far. We’ll be OK, I guess.”
The decisions by Nix and Martin made plenty of other people around campus happy, too — particularly their teammates and coaches. Martin was the anchor of a veteran offensive line that paved the way for a ground game that averaged more than 200 yards per game. The NFL beckoned, but the lure of getting even better as a fifth-year senior and starting alongside his little brother, sophomore Nick Martin, was too great to resist.
Nix, meanwhile, burst on to the scene this year as one of the best run-stuffing nose guards in the country, anchoring Notre Dame’s two critical goal-line stands against Stanford and USC. After nearly leaving school last spring after Kelly had been critical of his inconsistent play, Nix rededicated himself to becoming a better, more mature player. He had 45 tackles — 51/2 for losses — and two sacks, while deflecting five passes and plugging up the middle for the nation’s top scoring defense. Linebacker Manti Te’o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, even told a national TV audience that Nix would have gotten his vote had he had one.
Nix said it was a “serious” decision for him, largely because of his family’s financial issues. He filed his paperwork with the NFL to see what his draft rating would be but said he didn’t bother to wait for the results. When he gets the report, he’ll put it in his locker for “motivation.”
For now, his goal is to beat Alabama on Jan. 7 for the national championship. After that, it’s to graduate from Notre Dame next fall. Then, maybe the NFL. Because he knows that degree — along with that stroll out of the tunnel on the north end of Notre Dame Stadium, arm in arm in front of 82,000 fans — will make Mom happier than any paycheck ever could.
“She took care of me and my brothers and my little sister,” he said. “She instilled a lot of hard work in me. I still communicated with my dad. He was still cool, and he helped support us. But just having my mom around, fighting to keep us eating, that was a big thing for me.
“And this will make her happy.”