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Brothers in arms

Matthew DeFranks | Friday, October 18, 2013

Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt know how to play off each other.

They take each other’s antics and turn them into jokes. They take each other’s friendly teasing and turn it into lighthearted ribbing. And in the past two years, they have been taking each other’s lead and meeting at the ball carrier.

And for almost two minutes on Wednesday, the defensive linemen put on an improv performance of sorts, pretending not to be friends as they shot quips back and forth at their fellow All-American.

“We’re not good friends at all,” Tuitt said.

“We just play with each other,” Nix said. “We’re doing this but that’s about it.

“It’s not hate, we just don’t get along.”

“He’s too far away. He’s from a different part of the neighborhood,” Tuitt replied.

But the act did not end there as both Irish stars credited the other for his success.

“The person across from me, I just imagine it’s him and just hit him,” Nix said.

“I imagine everybody is Lou and I just try to hit them as hard as I can,” Tuitt said.

For nearly 120 seconds, the pair traded their football helmets for drama masks as they seamlessly rattled off comeback after comeback as if no one else was listening.

While people may not have seen this side of Nix and Tuitt’s friendship, they hardly keep their friendship a secret.

It’s on Twitter. On May 17, Tuitt tweeted, “Did stairs at the stadium today at noon. Where the sun is at its peak working my fundamentals and mental toughness. Passion for the game”. Nix’s response? A succinct and good-natured “shut up”.

It’s on YouTube. In February of 2012, Nix posted a video of Tuitt attempting the “Salt Challenge,” in which Tuitt tried to swallow a spoonful of salt. Tuitt failed the challenge miserably while Nix’s high-pitched laugh echoed in the background.

But the jokes ended and the tone changed once the topic shifted to the football field and away from the comedy club. Nix and Tuitt started to resemble the fearsome forces they are on the field and not the jokesters they are off of it.


On the field

While the two players line up at different positions – the senior Nix inside at nose tackle and the junior Tuitt outside at end – the duo said their friendship boosts them on the field.

“We get into it sometimes but we realize that we’re brothers basically and we gotta [sic] get along to be successful,” Nix said. “So it helps.”

Nix, who has 20 tackles and one tackle for loss this season, said he sometimes gets frustrated with Tuitt when he goes too far up the field and loses contain on the quarterback.

“The quarterback ran for a first down and I almost wanted to fight him but not quite,” Nix said.

Nix, who stands at 6-foot-2.5 and 342 pounds, is a role model of sorts for Tuitt, who in 2012 fell 1.5 sacks short of Justin Tuck’s school record of 13.5 sacks.

“I look up to him because he’s been there longer and he has more knowledge and understanding of the game,” Tuitt said.

Tuitt, who has 18 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, said having a talented player like Nix next to him makes his job easier.

“I know he’s going to do his job and he knows I’m going to do my job,” Tuitt said. “It just makes it so much easier on the field. We don’t have to try to do each other’s job.”

It seems, though, like both of them have one job in common: mentor the rest of the defensive line, most notably sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day.

Day is next in the line of skilled defensive linemen for the Irish, one year behind Tuitt and two behind Nix. The Indianapolis native said playing with Nix and Tuitt has made him a better player.

“It’s great playing with those guys,” Day said. “They really showed me how to master my craft and to do the things that they do to make them as good as they are.”

Early this season, the Irish defense struggled to get pressure on the quarterback, but the unit broke through against Arizona State to notch six sacks. In the previous five games combined, Notre Dame had just four.

Irish coach Brian Kelly said Notre Dame was unable to rush the passer successfully, in part, because quarterbacks were getting rid of the ball quickly. Tuitt said the effort against Arizona State was what he expected this season but also acknowledged that offenses have played differently than last season.

“Offenses are going to play us differently because they know we can have an impact on the game,” Tuitt said.


In the NFL?

This past offseason, Nix passed up the opportunity to enter the NFL Draft and returned for his senior season at Notre Dame. Tuitt would follow in his teammates footsteps if he decides to come back in 2014.

Nix said he does not think about the NFL until after the season is over.

“We don’t think about it at all until the last game,” he said. “That’s when we make decisions about the NFL. The NFL is not relevant.”

That is when Tuitt stepped in and told The Observer he would pass up the NFL and come back for his senior year.

“I’m coming back next year,” Tuitt said. “I’m a junior. I still have one year.”

When asked later to confirm if he would be back next season, Tuitt replied “Yes.”

On Wednesday night, however, Tuitt tweeted, “Can’t Believe everything you read. Goodnight,” before the tweet was deleted shortly after. Tamara Tuitt-Bartlett, Stephon’s mother, said Tuitt had not decided what he was going to do, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Kelly addressed the situation on Thursday evening, saying Tuitt did not mean to declare either way. Kelly said Tuitt’s ultimate decision would be centered around his family and his degree.

Nix, who still has one more year of eligibility also, is listed as Scouts, Inc.’s No. 6 overall prospect and ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.’s No. 3 prospect. Tuitt, meanwhile, is ranked No. 14 and No. 11 on those lists, respectively.

Both players are projected to be first-round picks in the 2014 NFL Draft.

But right now, they still play with each other and will continue to play off each other.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]