NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Louis Nix will always be - well, Louis Nix. Notre Dame's senior nose guard is stubborn by nature and after a breakthrough season for both himself and his team in 2012, Nix is back this fall for what could be his last spin around campus - the same campus he thought about leaving just two-plus years ago before ever playing a down for the Fighting Irish.
"I thought about leaving a lot," Nix said Sunday on the eve of the team's start to fall training camp. "(I thought about) going back to Florida and playing for somebody else. I worked through it and it just made me who I am today. People love me."
People may love him now, but after his inactive 2010 season on campus and through his first season on the field in 2011 Nix did not always feel loved by Brian Kelly and the Irish coaching staff. His "inconsistent" label followed him into last season, but he finally shook it off to help anchor a defense that propelled Notre Dame to the BCS Championship Game.
"I'm glad I stayed," Nix says now. "I could have been somewhere not being this motivated. I could have been back home with my family somewhere. I (wouldn't) have been in college, so I'm glad I stayed. I'm glad I stayed motivated. Being at Notre Dame taught me (that) life gets tough and you've just gotta keep fighting through it."
Nix will probably never pass for a motivational speaker - Tony Robbins he is not. Nix experienced his own brand of tough love from Kelly, Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and d-line coach Mike Elston in his rocky two first years on campus, but he is now able to use his own experience to help new Irish freshmen.
"I talk to them all the time in camp to motivate them to keep pushing," said Nix. "Sometimes there will be trials and tribulations, but at the same time if you keep pushing through you'll make it."
Nix recorded career-highs with 50 tackles, including 7.5 for loss, and 2.0 sacks last fall to help the Irish to their 12-0 regular season and title game berth. Despite the lopsided 42-14 final score, he kept fighting through the second half while battling injury. As if living through that experience wasn't enough, Nix subjected himself to more tough love throughout the offseason.
"I watched the national championship at least three times a week honestly," Nix said. "(I did it) to remind myself I don't want that to happen again. Alabama was a great team - great o-line, great coaches (and a) great quarterback. You have to emulate a team like that. They work hard (and) they go out and compete every game. They (left) no doubt that they should have been national champs."
Notre Dame critics obviously had a field day after the BCS blowout. The incredible season that ended a two-plus decades of failing to at least play for a championship meant nothing after the four touchdown loss to Alabama.
"I don't too much care what people say," Nix said. "At the end of the day they'll talk mess about Notre Dame no matter what. They can say it was a fluke (and) they can say it was this and that, but we went 12-0. Not everybody can do that."
Now weighing-in at an official 357 pounds, Nix carried a Barrett Jones sized chip on his shoulder through the spring and into the summer. He refused to believe he and his defensive teammates had been dominated by the Crimson Tide in Miami and he used it to fuel his fire during summer workouts.
"I pushed myself to be better," said Nix. "I got a lot stronger in the weight room than in the previous years. I tried to get faster and get my conditioning up. Conditioning in the summer and playing with pads on are completely different things, but I did well this summer and hopefully I'll accomplish that when we put the pads on."
The Irish have a handful of important questions heading into the new season. Quarterback Everett Golson is suspended for the fall semester and emotional leader Manti Te'o is now in the NFL. Despite those losses, Nix says the Irish have the pieces to put together another championship run in 2013.
"I think we do," he said. "That's all on our shoulders. We've got to go out and be competitive and we've got to go out wanting to win and we've got to put the work in throughout the week in practice and in school to make sure everybody stays eligible."
Te'o's loss means more than just losing his team-leading 113 tackles and seven interceptions. The leadership void he leaves in his wake may be even bigger than his sizeable production. Nix bristles a bit though when asked if he is ready to take the leadership baton this fall.
"We'll see," Nix said when asked if he is the next leader of the Irish defense. "People think I should be the leader or whatever, but me - I'm just going to be Louis. If that makes me the leader then whatever, but I'm just going to be Louis. I'm still going to work hard and go out to practice every day and do what the coaches tell me and keep moving."
Another season like Nix and the Irish defense had in 2012 when they ranked second in the nation in scoring defense and 11th in rushing defense will likely see Nix drafted somewhere in the first round of next year's NFL Draft. Nix is not talking about that now though. The veteran is solely focused on getting back to the promised land.
"I'm actually so ready to get back to the season," Nix said with excitement in his voice. "We want to get back to the national championship, but that's how you have to take every game - one at a time. We're just ready to start camp, get this thing going and focus on Temple."
If Louis Nix is Louis Nix things should be just fine.