- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Aaron Lynch and Louis Nix will end their first seasons of playing college football in Florida — just not the way each once thought he would.
The Sunshine State natives both committed to schools in Florida before switching their allegiances to Notre Dame. Lynch, from Cape Coral, was a Florida State commit; Nix, a Jacksonville native, had committed to Miami.
As the Irish prepare to face the Seminoles in Dec. 29's Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., Brian Kelly has noticed the extra pep in the step of the pair of first-year players, along with the eight other Florida natives on Notre Dame's roster.
"They're so excited about the game, especially the Florida kids," Kelly said. "Listen, just wait until [Dec. 29], and wait for the game to speak. Don't go outside the realm here. So that's been really the only conversation that I've had."
Lynch and Nix, who were not available to the media in the lead-up to the bowl game, have burst onto the scene this season. Lynch, a true freshman, has started five games at end, recording 4 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hurries, by far the most on the team.
Nix is in his first season playing after sitting out his freshman season in 2010, losing more than 40 pounds along the way. Ten starts, 42 tackles and 4 tackles for loss have marked his sophomore campaign, which was much more eventful than anticipated as fellow nose guard Sean Cwynar battled a broken right hand in the first half of the season.
"I would say that all of them have stepped into a role that increasingly grew as the season went on based on injuries and based on the need for them to play," defensive line coach Mike Elston said. "I think that they've managed it very well and I think that they've handled the expectations that people have put on them — not necessarily the coaches, but that people have put on them. They've handled themselves really well and I think they're going to be very good players. They're not there yet, they have a lot of work to do. They know that and I'm excited about the progress right now."
Senior end Ethan Johnson, back at full strength following a right-ankle sprain that limited him for much of the season, can understand why the season finale might mean a little more for the younger linemen.
Throw in fellow freshman end Stephon Tuitt, a Monroe, Ga., native who has impressed this season, and the defensive line is in for quite the homecoming next week.
"Of course it's exciting for them to go home," said Johnson, a native of Portland, Ore. "If I was going to Oregon I'd be really excited. But I don't think it will affect the game at all. I'm sure they're gonna play just like they would if it was any other game, which is well. They're gonna play well.
"And they're gonna get after it and you always wanna leave the field, especially the last game, feeling like it was your best game, and I feel like that they're gonna do that — they're gonna have their best game of the year. There's no reason why they shouldn't in front of all their family, and it'll be a great experience for them."