After being reported missing on Wednesday, former Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III was found dead on Saturday. Nix was 29.
Nix had been missing in the Jacksonville area since Wednesday, last seen Tuesday. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office pulled a car from a pond near Nix’s apartment that matched his vehicle’s description on Saturday night.
Nix was shot in December during an attempted armed robbery at a gas station in Jacksonville, his hometown, as he put air into his car tire. The bullet to his chest left Nix in the hospital for nearly two weeks, and some of its fragments remained in his sternum and his left lung.
“I know it sounds cliché, but more than anything, I’m happy to be alive,” Nix said in mid-December to Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has not indicated the shooting is in any way related to Nix’s death.
Nix was the defensive fulcrum for Notre Dame’s unbeaten 2012 regular season. Then a junior, he started 11 games and led all Irish defensive linemen with 50 tackles and made a team-high five pass breakups. As that defense allowed 10.3 points per game in the regular season, it was Nix holding the point of attack and as often as not, penetrating past it.
When No. 17 Stanford had first-and-goal from the 4-yard line in overtime that October, it was Nix who stood up to keep Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor from reaching the goal line. On first down, Nix absorbed the lead blocker’s helmet to his chest, as Taylor gained only one yard. Slow to get up from the blow, Nix missed second down, when Taylor pushed from the 3 to the 1.
The ensuing goal-line stand is remembered for Manti Te’o’s tackles, for cornerback Bennett Jackson sweeping around the edge and hitting Taylor before he even got to the line, for safety Zeke Motta’s wrap-up, but it was Nix who bounced from the middle and collapsed the line on third down and then absorbed two blockers on fourth down.
Taylor’s reach for the end zone on the final play remains a point of contention, but if not for Nix, Taylor would have crossed the goal line with no problem, if not even on an earlier snap.
The Notre Dame defense knew as much, Te’o taking time out of his locker room celebration to find Nix.
“Hey Lou, they can’t block you,” Te’o said, emphasizing each syllable. “You’re the best nose guard in the whole country.” (Jump to the 3:44 mark in this video.)
That would be the theme of Nix’s career, active for the Irish from 2011 to 2013, finishing with 122 career tackles including 14 for loss along with eight pass breakups.
“Louis Nix was a beast,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in 2013 after a defeat at Michigan in which Nix had only four tackles with one for loss and the Irish lost 41-30. “They couldn’t block him. (He) played as well as he’s played for us. (Michigan) just had no answers for him inside.”
That is the underrated, anonymous duty of most quality defensive tackles. They absorb double teams without yielding an inch to propel a Te’o to superstardom.
Nix’s 2013 ended prematurely after he was sidelined by a knee injury. In an attempt to give him time to rehab and to protect from further injury, the Irish intentionally held Nix out against the triple-option offenses of Air Force and Navy, but Nix appeared only once more for Notre Dame before season-ending knee surgery.
He had done what he could to play through a torn meniscus to help the Irish defense — a 7-2 season fell to an 8-4 finish as Nix missed the year’s conclusion — and the long-term damage done to his knee impacted his NFL career. Drafted in 2014’s third round by the Houston Texans, he needed a second knee surgery before his first training camp and a third knee surgery ended his rookie year before he appeared in a game.
Nix would play in four games for the New York Giants in 2015 before bouncing from their practice squad to the Washington practice squad to the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad.