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Nix is the best both on and off the field

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Last week, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was unequivocal in his evaluation of rising senior Louis Nix.

“We think he’s the best nose guard in America,” Kelly said.

As good as Nix has been as the centerpiece of the Irish’s defensive line, he might be better in front of a microphone. Nix was made available after the Irish’s practice on Friday and as usual the singularly unique Nix was at his best. The rising senior, who likely enters his final season at Notre Dame, wears his emotions on his sleeve, and never gives an answer that feels canned or rehearsed. How else can you explain his evaluation of where the Irish are this spring, and what their goals might be.

“Coming off that ass whooping from Alabama, we just want to get back on track and get focused,” Nix said. “Make our way back to the national championship game, and hopefully do a better job.”

That kind of attitude, from one of the team’s best players no less, should alleviate any concern Irish fans have about Notre Dame’s players entering next season too confident. Nix’s attitude about his own personal goals was equally as refreshing, avoiding any NFL talk and keeping his focus on the task at hand.

“Just keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Nix said. “Just going with what Coach Kelly, Coach Elston, and Coach Diaco tell me to do. Work in the weight room. Work in the class room. Just keep doing what I do.”

What Nix does is pretty impressive. While he laughed off questions about his added weight (likely not so much a weight gain but an accounting adjustment to better reflect the truth), he’s also taken on an unlikely leadership role, mentoring younger players that’ll be key contributors along the line, but doing so in a way that’s vintage Nix. (Rising sophomore Jarron Jones said Nix’s words of encouragement usually include, “You suck.”)

But Nix’s playful banter with teammates is now juxstaposed with a work ethic that matches his talent. Nix skipped out on spring break this year, choosing to go to Arizona instead, where he ran hills and trained. He plans to do the same in his brief summer break, avoiding a trip back home to Florida.

“I usually go home and do nothing and gain weight and eat. There’s no purpose to do that,” Nix said.

That type of maturity is a long way from the guy we met three years ago. A long way from the guy who spent his freshman season sitting out, working to transform his body while watching his teammates play in Yankee Stadium from his dorm room, or celebrating a long-sought victory over USC on an empty campus over Thanksgiving break. (“So that sucked,” Nix said.)

Nix sees the big picture now, understanding that everything he’s doing now will pay off. Possible as soon as this time next year.

“I’ve got all the time in the world to go on spring break,” Nix said. “I don’t want to ball on a budget. That’s the worst. I want to hopefully make some money in the draft, if hopefully I make it or don’t get hurt, get a couple dollars in my pocket and go do what I want.”

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.