Nov. 22, 2013
By: Josh Dempsey ’16
The success story of Louis Nix is not the average one you might hear told. Indeed, it is far greater and about as close to a true rags-to-riches story as one might find in the non-fiction realm, especially here at Notre Dame.
Many people know Nix through his active life on social media and his YouTube mini-series Chocolate News that gave an insider view of life on the varsity football team at Notre Dame, with a touch of humor that has come to be expected from “Big Lou.” Some people might even know him as “Irish Chocolate,” a nickname he took on early in his career here at Notre Dame after he posted a status on Facebook asking fans to give him a good nickname. His comic and extraverted personality has made him a hit around campus and a favorite of Notre Dame students and alumni alike.
But not many people know where he came from, or the trials and tribulations Nix faced in his formative years of high school. For all intents and purposes, most people’s knowledge of Nix extends only from his outstanding play on the field and his regular updates seen on a Twitter feed — but this does not do him justice. There is much more to Nix than All-American speculations and funny YouTube videos.
Nix did not come from the comforts and privilege that many Notre Dame students experience while growing up. He did not attend a prep school or have the fancy amenities some of his current classmates have. Nix went to William M. Raines High School in Jacksonville, Florida — described by Nix himself as being in a rough part of town with a rough crowd of classmates at times.
To give some perspective, Raines High School has a 99-percent minority enrollment, 77-percent total economically disadvantaged student population, 12-percent proficiency in reading, and 17-percent proficiency in math. To come from such a background and to be a successful student-athlete at Notre Dame is a great accomplishment and testament to the character and work ethic of Nix. But the road was not an easy one, to say the least.
“My school was in a bit of a rough area; a very rough area. I mean, we were known for football and we had a good number of guys go on to play, so I was excited to play.”
Nix had the opportunity to play all four years of high school, even getting some starting time as a freshman at William M. Raines. But despite the talent he showed on the field, Nix admitted to not giving much thought to college; getting a high school diploma was the first thing on his mind.
“I never really thought about college though. Honestly, I just liked to play; especially after I got conditioned, I really started to enjoy myself because I felt good out there.”
Getting himself into shape to play was the first big step for Big Lou. Pushing 6-3 and nearly 320 pounds in high school, Nix had the physical dimensions necessary to succeed at the next level.
“After I got in shape, that’s when it really started,” Nix says. “I was going to camps, and then I started getting scholarships. I didn’t really know what that meant at first.”
Nix elaborated on the goals he had during high school. When asked if college football had been an objective in his high school years, Nix had this to say:
“My goal wasn’t college football — or college, period. It was about getting my high school diploma and that was about it. After I received a scholarship, I started to realize how important that college experience might be. That’s when I started pursuing it.”
Nix’s goals were transmuted towards the end of his sophomore year of high school, when he first began receiving scholarships.
“Tenth grade is when they (scholarships) started coming in. I got verbally offered, but I didn’t know what that meant. Then I started getting scholarship letters which actually showed how much the scholarship was worth. That gave me motivation to pursue it.”
Nix describes how the scholarship offers gave him incentive to improve himself on the field as well as in the classroom.
“It definitely motivated me to get my grades up,” Nix says. “I was an average student, but it made me work harder in the classroom.”
The process forced Nix to look into and research things most high school students would assume are common knowledge for students.
“I was a senior in high school and I didn’t know what the SAT or the ACT were. So before I was able to graduate or even accept my scholarship, I had to take one of those tests.”
He went on to describe how high school diplomas, and not necessarily college acceptances, were the objectives in his high school.
“I’d never been exposed to that (the SAT/ACT). Again, my goal had been to get a high school diploma,” he says. “A lot of people didn’t know about the tests until it was that time and they were in their senior year and knew they wanted to go to college. I feel like they’re starting to push that fact more now — taking the tests — but I just didn’t know about it.”
He learned quickly what was required and did what he had to do to make his new dream of being a scholarship athlete a reality.
“It wasn’t easy for me. The first two times I took the test, I didn’t get the scores I needed. It wasn’t until the third time that I got the scores and was able to accept the scholarship.”
Getting the score necessary to take his game to the collegiate level was a momentous leap for Nix.
“It was a huge boost for my morale. I was happy, I was excited, I had a whole lot of good emotions,” Nix laughs.
He follows up his comment with sincerity and appreciation of what he has accomplished.
“That was my first step in doing something successful. You know, coming from nowhere to actually being somebody.”
Nix is definitely a “somebody” on the Notre Dame campus, and indeed in the coach’s rooms of many NFL teams, but his road to success in college did not come easy. Making the grade in high school was only the very beginning, and Big Lou describes his transition to college as a difficult one.
“Coming here academically, I don’t feel like I was prepared like some students were; kids who were top of their class and such. I did really enjoy the fact that Notre Dame helped us prepare once we got here. Required classes in writing and math helped so much in the transition.”
Nix continus to describe the transition to college, highlighting things he learned and the way Notre Dame helped him succeed.
“Writing is a difficult thing for me to do; it doesn’t come as easy as some people might think. A lot of the core classes taught me skills I didn’t have, but needed to succeed here. One example is learning how to properly use citations. It’s an easy skill that these introductory classes then made easy for me.”
On the support Notre Dame provided, Nix shares:
“The coaches stayed on us even off the field: making sure we went to class, encouraging us not to drop classes and to take on the challenge. It was tough at first, but looking back now I’m happy I was pushed like that.”
It is safe to say that characteristics off the field often translate to play on the field. This was so for Nix.
“My confidence in the classroom went up, and my confidence on the field went up as well,” Nix says. “I didn’t play my freshmen year here, and that’s a little stressful. Football’s tough, school is tough; it’s a hard thing to go through. But I got my grades up and felt good about it, and that affected my confidence and work ethic in the weight room and on the field.”
From not playing in a single game as a freshman to being arguably the top defensive player on the 2013 Notre Dame football team is indicative of the strides Nix has made in his time in college. But he has not got caught up simply in the aura of the football stadium. Nix values the opportunities he has academically at Notre Dame and is making the most the most of it.
“I have two opportunities where I stand right now: it could be the NFL or it could be my degree. I’m an film, television, and theatre major–that’s why I fool around in front of the camera so much, doing Chocolate News and whatnot.”
“Back home, my goal might have been to get a job at Footlocker and maybe score some discounted shoes,” Nix says with a smile. “Now I’m looking to play in the NFL as long as possible. Then, whenever I come out, use my Notre Dame degree to work for ABC, NBC, or maybe wind up coaching.”
Nix is currently taking a coaching class in which the goal is to help students develop an approach to coaching that is based on sound philosophical, psychological and sociological foundations. The course is aimed at students who aspire to become coaches and to understand coaching through an educational lens.
It is one of the many doors that have been opened to Louis Nix after he made the decision to pursue a college education. Notre Dame has facilitated the process, but Nix has been the primary agent of turning his goals into reality and creating a real-life success story.
“Looking back then and looking where I’m at now, it’s obvious: I have options now, and that’s something I didn’t always have.”