Unique nose guard Irish Chocolate becomes leader
Mike Monaco | Thursday, November 21, 2013
Louis Nix has grown.
Literally, he has shrunk a half-inch and eight pounds since his freshman season, but the defensive tackle has developed into a mature and professional senior.
“If you had to pick one guy on the team that’s grown the most over his career, but I think more importantly over the last year, I think for me it would be him,” Irish graduate student left tackle Zack Martin said.
In 2012, Irish coach Brian Kelly described his initial impressions of the then-6-foot-3, 350-pound freshman Nix.
“This big mammoth of a man who had a kid-like personality,” Kelly said at the time.
But as a junior, Nix evolved.
“He’s just added a lot of maturity to that kid-like personality,” Kelly said.
During that junior campaign and early in his senior season, Nix acknowledged as much. In September, he said the maturity simply “came as the years went by.” Nix said he simply “got better at it.” On the field, the 6-foot-2.5, 342-pounder stepped up as well, focusing more on his professionalism.
“I think I’ve always been decent at practicing and stuff, but I had to take it to another level,” Nix said at the time. “People consider me an All-American and I’ve got to practice and play like one, so I try to keep my intensity up.”
Practicing and playing with the focus and drive of a senior leader was the culmination of a four-year process for Nix, who always had the physical ability. Nix joined Notre Dame in 2010 as ESPN’s No. 64 overall recruit in the nation and the sixth-best defensive tackle. After redshirting his freshman season, Nix has been a regular starter and double-team demander at nose tackle in Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defensive scheme.
“[He has] always [been] a great player – nobody ever questioned how he played on the field,” Martin said. “Kind of the last year the leadership role he’s stepped into and taken and the example he has set has been awesome to see and he’s really brought more than just being a great football player to this team.”
Nix is known as the fun-loving Irish Chocolate. He’s a quotable character to the local media and he’s a mainstay on social media. Nix’s Twitter account, @1IrishChocolate, is nearing 30,000 followers. His YouTube page has more than 1,600 subscribers and 300,000 views. But perhaps not coincidentally, Nix’s involvement on social media has decreased as his maturity and professionalism have increased. The last video he uploaded to YouTube was Aug. 31, 2012, the day before Notre Dame’s season-opener against Navy in Dublin, Ireland.
Nix’s classmate, senior cornerback Bennett Jackson, said over the years the nose tackle’s “people skills” stand out the most.
“He’s really matured as a person and a player and a teammate,” Jackson said. “He’s really supportive to his teammates. He helps out a lot of the younger guys all the time. He’s just grown as a person overall.”
Making it work
Louis Nix has always been different.
Growing up in Jacksonville, Fla., those close to him recognized he was different – different from the friends who Nix admitted did “stupid stuff,” different from others in his community who didn’t “make it” because there were always people pulling them back and telling them “they can’t do it.”
“But me? That’s not me, man,” Nix said. “I just like to keep moving forward and be different. I feel like I am a different kind of guy.”
Nix was different, but that’s not to say he didn’t deal with what he acknowledged were his own “original misgivings.”
“I had a lot in my life to deal with,” Nix said. “Growing up, my brother got killed. I had cousins die in car accidents. I had classmates get shot and killed. I’ve been through a lot in my life. I don’t let that hold me back. I just keep pushing forward and just try to make life happy. I just like to make people smile and smile myself.”
That smile-seeking personality – the same one to which Jackson referred – has always been present, Nix said, and it helped him reach Notre Dame, making him one of the first people in his family to attend college.
“My personality has always been Louis. I’ve always had Irish Chocolate in me,” he said. “It just took me to get here to bring it out. I think I’ve always been different and I think they saw that. I think everybody saw me having an opportunity to go out and do something special with myself because a lot of people from my area don’t. I think they just wanted me to be one of those guys to make it out.”
Those who helped him along the way – cousins, brothers and aunts, even the friends who did “stupid stuff,” according to Nix – “kept him in line.”
“They pushed me to do the right things and that’s why I’m here now,” Nix said.
But it wasn’t always easy right away for Nix at Notre Dame. He sat out his freshman season and didn’t travel to road games. Following his sophomore campaign, in which he started 11 games and tallied 45 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss, he admittedly battled homesickness. Nix went so far as to tweet “Hopping on the Delta and might never come back,” soon after former Irish defensive end and fellow Florida native Aaron Lynch left the program.
But Nix was different, and he stayed at Notre Dame. Now, he’s a projected first-round pick in line to be able to graduate in December.
“I think when you come on campus and you breathe the air at Notre Dame, it has a tendency to help you,” Kelly said of Nix’s success at the University. “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. Success breeds success. …
“Let’s not forget Louis’ goals because I think that’s central to this. Louis chose Notre Dame because he wanted more. He could have gone anywhere, but Louis Nix wanted a degree from Notre Dame, and he’s going to have one. And I think when you cut right to it, it worked because Louis Nix wanted it to work. … There are other stories that came in and it didn’t work for them, and I think it’s a great story.”
What lies ahead
Louis Nix has options aplenty.
He could put the NFL on hold and return to South Bend for a fifth season in 2014.
“It’s up in the air right now,” he said. “Who knows? I don’t know the future. … Just something to keep thinking about. I love this place. Who wouldn’t want to come back for a fifth year to Notre Dame. So it’s something to look at. Who knows? We’ll see.”
He will have his degree soon enough. Nix took 19 credits this semester, including a recent one-credit, 10-hour course on a bye week Saturday. He said the degree will mean a lot to his family, especially his mother, Stephanie Ancrum, who Nix said “has been on me a lot” regarding the degree. Nix, a film, television and theatre major, added it is important to him, too.
“A lot of people from where I’m from, they don’t have that. I have something to fall back on besides football,” he said. “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 after my career is over with football. … I want to take advantage of that. I’m glad I have another outlet beside football.”
It’s a fitting outlet for the social media talent that is Irish Chocolate.
Nix said he would also love to give back to the people in his Jacksonville community.
“I rarely go home because I’m always here or there, but when I get a chance to, I definitely will try to take the opportunity to go back, talk to people and do what I can to make somebody’s life better than what mine is,” he said.
As for his legacy at Notre Dame, Nix’s objective is appropriate for the fun-loving, smile-seeking, kid-like personality, the man with the people skills, the man who was always different.
“I just want my brand to stand,” he said. “I just really want them to call me Irish Chocolate, to be honest. I just like for everybody to say he was a nice guy. I just want to be remembered as a nice guy.”
Contact Mike Monaco at firstname.lastname@example.org