NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Louis Nix III is coming back to college next season so he can take a walk with his mom.
There's more to it than that, of course. But the biggest stated reason the Notre Dame third-year sophomore nose tackle is bypassing the NFL draft is sweetly noble: He wants to share Senior Day with his mother, Stephanie Wingfield.
"She wants to walk on the field with me for my last game in Notre Dame Stadium," Nix said Monday at the team's pre-BCS championship game media day.
Wingfield didn't have that opportunity when Nix was a senior at Raines High School in Jacksonville, Fla. Trying to support a large family, her work in a hospital cafeteria conflicted with Nix's final home game at Raines – and he never even told her there would be a pregame ceremony.
"I didn't actually mention it to her," Nix said. "I thought it would be in the best interests of the family that she work. The family needed her to work."
So Nix went through the ceremony alone. An aunt in attendance at the game called Stephanie Wingfield and told her about it, and since then she's been determined the Senior Day scene would play out differently in college.
But after enjoying a productive and successful season helping the Fighting Irish go 12-0, Nix has appeared on the NFL draft radar for 2013. He had a decision to make.
Last Friday, Nix told his mom he was bypassing the draft and coming back. Well aware of her son's renowned sense of humor – he chose his nickname "Irish Chocolate" from a Facebook contest he started – she didn't believe him.
"Are you serious?" she asked him. "Stop playing with me."
"No, I'm lying, mom," he said, exasperated. "I'm lying."
Nix then went to head coach Brian Kelly and told him he was staying in school – as is highly touted offensive tackle Zack Martin. Kelly announced both those developments at the start of his news conference Monday, adding that running back Cierre Wood is still contemplating an early entry into the draft.
After Kelly's announcement, reporters flocked to Nix to talk about it.
"Hopefully this will convince her I'm telling the truth," Nix said.
The two are close enough that Nix says Wingfield will call him "20 times a day. I'm so serious." So chances are good that they have had at least one conversation Monday that convinces Wingfield her son really will be back in college next semester. He said he is on track to graduate next December with a degree in film, television and theater, with a business minor.
He's come a long way since arriving in the summer of 2010 as a 368-pound freshman. Yes, 368 pounds.
"If you've never been a 368-pound football player and out of shape, you don't know what it's like," Nix said, recalling days when he was lagging far behind his teammates during conditioning runs.
"You don't want to be that guy in the back," he said. "Well, I'm still in the back, but it's a faster pace."
Today, the 6-foor-3 Nix is a svelte 326, or at least that's his listed weight. His powerful ability to disrupt the middle of opposing offensive lines has helped make Notre Dame's defense the hardest to score against in America, allowing just 10.3 points per game.
Manti Te'o gets the most pub, and deserves it. But Nix and the rest of an imposing defensive line help him look good.
That's why the matchup with Alabama's dominant offensive line figures to be the centerpiece of the championship game Jan. 7 in South Florida. It will be strength on strength, and that strength starts specifically in the middle, where 'Bama All-American center Barrett Jones will mash facemasks with Nix.
"I call it my money game," Nix said. "This is where I prove myself. [Jones] is the type of guy I want to go up against, and this is the kind of team I want to go up against."
The Irish are a pronounced underdog to the defending national champions, and it's clear they are embracing the disrespect. As Nix said, "Now that we beat everyone, I guess everyone is overrated."
When asked about what the reaction would be in South Bend if Notre Dame wins, Nix joked, "Maybe we can have Irish Chocolate Day if we win it."
Maybe. But even if there is not an Irish Chocolate Day, Louis Nix can definitely have a Senior Day. And his mom can be there this time to share it with him.
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