Commentary

Notre Dame's big advantage

Originally Published: December 27, 2012
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Louis NixJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesAlabama's title hopes will probably have to run through Notre Dame's Louis Nix. Ask Riley Nelson of BYU how easy that will be.

Louis Nix is scary.

Some nights, he slaps on a "Saw" mask, goes out on the Notre Dame campus, jumps out from behind bushes and scares students. When a 330-pound nose guard leaps out at you, your pancreas tends to leap out of you. One poor girl cried. "I've had campus police called on me," Nix admits.

Which is weird, since Nix loves nothing more than to laugh.

One Halloween, he dressed as Jesus Christ, and as he walked around he'd freeze every 20 feet or so into a Touchdown Jesus pose.

The question is, can he save Notre Dame?


Louis Nix is a monster.

[+] EnlargeLouis Nix
Stephanie WingfieldLouis Nix didn'ít go pro because his mom, Stephanie Wingfield, wanted him to get his degree.

He could be a monstrous problem for 10-point favorite Alabama in this BCS title game on Jan. 7 in Miami. He's the size of a British phone booth, with the feet of a flamenco dancer, and the hands of a silversmith. He was as movable as the Lincoln Memorial during huge Irish fourth-quarter goal-line stands against both Stanford and USC this season.

He'll be up against Crimson Tide All-Galaxy center Barrett Jones. If Jones can handle Nix, Alabama can run to its third BCS title in the past four seasons. If Nix can handle Jones, Notre Dame can become the first team to go from unranked to national champs since BYU in 1984.

Of course, most people think Jones and Alabama will win, because most people think any SEC team could beat anybody, up to and including the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

"I don't listen to the SEC hype," says Nix. "I could've been an SEC player. All those schools recruited me. I've got friends who play in the SEC. They tell me it's about like it is here, except they say they don't do much school stuff at all. I tell him, 'Man, this [expletive] at Notre Dame ain't no joke.'"

Nix hasn't had much trouble. He's on schedule to graduate next December with a film, theater and TV degree, in three and a half years.

From there, it's on to the NFL, then to a career in movies and TV, where he wants to be on both sides of the camera.

He's big enough to do it.


Louis Nix is a banana.

He bruises easily. On the inside, not out.

When he was a boy, he wasn't allowed to play Pop Warner because he was always too big for his age group. Actually, too big for any age group.

"I'd explain it to him," says his mom, Stephanie Wingfield. "He'd look kinda hurt. And he'd say, 'OK, but I don't think it's right.'"

If you think Nix is big now, you should've seen him when he was an Irish freshman. He was half a cheeseburger away from 370 and about as fit as a LoveSac. He couldn't even get through a single workout.

He's lost 40 pounds since then, and yet there was a fan this season in Norman, Okla., who kept yelling from the stands: "Nix! You're fat! Fat!"

"The worst part was when I checked him out, he was fat," Nix says. "That hurt me. Man, we big guys gotta stick together."

Nix looks in a mirror and sees an elf. Others see Santa.

"Sometimes he'll look at me and put on his puppy dog face and say, 'I'm fat,'" says his girlfriend, Kiah Schaefbauer. "And I always hold him and tell him, 'No, Boo Boo Bear, you're not fat. You're just big-boned.'"

When Nix weighs in each week, it's as if the Pope is about to take a steam bath.

"It involves a whole lot of movements," Nix admits. "I don't let anybody see what I weigh."

ND cornerback Bennett Jackson says it doesn't matter. "He's so wide, we can't see the scale anyway."


Louis Nix is a quarterback.

In his mind, that is. His little brother once wrote an entire paper on what a good quarterback he is, and Nix tells coach Brian Kelly it's up to him to make sure that the kid isn't wrong.

"I guarantee I'd score if you put me at quarterback," he was telling Kelly the other day. "Guarantee it! Who's going to stop me? I'm [puts his hand over his mouth] pounds!"

Of course, Nix's chance of getting behind center would improve greatly if he'd stop going on Kelly's own radio show and making fun of the way Kelly turns purple when he's yelling at him.


Louis Nix is a mama's boy.

He could've turned pro at the end of this season and started making seven digits, but he didn't for a very good reason: His mom told him not to.

"I want him to get his degree," says Wingfield, a hospital cafeteria worker in Jacksonville, Fla.

Maybe more than that, she wants to walk with him on Senior Day next season. She didn't get to be there for his high school senior day because she had to work. Nix was the only player on the team that night without a parent.

So she'll be there in South Bend next November, even if they have to wheel her out on the field. See, she needs two new knees, but without any health insurance, she can't afford it. Nix says he plans to pay for it as soon as he turns pro, so now she's just going to have to wait a year.

"I've hopped around this long," she scoffs. "I can keep hopping."


Louis Nix is happy.

"He butt dials me all the time," says Kiah. "But he also plays tricks on me. So I have to listen for a while. The other day, I could hear him singing and singing. He must've sang at the top of his lungs for two minutes, all by himself in his room. I loved just listening to him singing his heart out."


Louis Nix is on.

[+] EnlargeLouis Nix
Cal Sports Media/AP ImagesNix is a big man with big plans.

He calls himself Irish Chocolate and his "Chocolate News" videos are a YouTube hit, whether he's interrupting QB Everett Golson practicing keyboards or catching Kelly as he's leaving surgery for a herniated disc in his lower back. ("They added two inches to me," he told Nix.)

"Louis talks to anybody he tackles," says teammate Prince Shembo, a linebacker. "We'll tackle some running back and he'll be like, 'You REALLY nice.'"

Nix likes to lay on them "stomach-to-stomach," as he says, jabbering straight into their helmets.

He was doing that last year to Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck until Luck turned the tables. After a particularly teeth-rattling hit, Luck looked up and went, "Ooooh. Nice hit! Nice hit!"

Nix got off him, laughing, using Luck's helmet as a brace.


Louis Nix is not going home again.

He wants to take his big bones and make a big living in the NFL (New England's Vince Wilfork is his favorite player), but he absolutely doesn't want to play for his favorite team, his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I don't want to go home and work. It's hard to be successful with so many people hanging around you."

Can you imagine? Just in his family alone, Nix has 13 siblings and half-siblings, five still at home, one only 14 months old.

He says he's happy to help them all -- but from another zip code.

Until then, he'll help his mom out the way he always does during vacations and the offseason: taking odd jobs like mowing lawns, moving furniture and cleaning buildings.

"He watches out for me," says his mom.


Louis Nix is on the verge of a very big step.

Two weeks ago, he asked Kiah what she wanted for Christmas.

She held his hands, looked into his eyes, and said, "A ring."

Nix's nonstop mouth suddenly ... stopped.

"He just looked at me, like, 'Oh, my God. Is she serious?'" says Kiah, who then threw up her hands and said, "Oh, no! Not THAT kind of ring. A BCS championship ring!"

You talk about scary.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com