JACKSONVILLE -- Louis Nix walked the halls on Tuesday at Raines High School, dressed in a shirt and tie.
Nix is all business this week, as he and his Vikings (5-3) teammates are getting ready to play at bitter rival Ribault (6-2) on Saturday. The community is fired up as well, with things such as a bonfire and talent/fashion show planned as part of the week's festivities.
Nix has helped lead Raines to three-straight victories over the Trojans, and the future Under Armour All-American defensive tackle is looking to do the same one more time.
This fall, Nix already has roughly 70 tackles and 10 sacks, leading his team in both categories.
Sitting inside an office at the school, Nix thought back and laughed about almost not playing in any of these hyped-up Ribault games.
Prior to his freshman year, Nix quit the football team not once, not twice, but five times that summer.
"The adjustment from middle school to high school was very difficult," Nix said. ESPNU's Scouts Inc. ranks him as the eighth-best defensive tackle in the country, and 100th-best player overall in the recruiting Class of 2010. "I played fullback in middle school and I was real good at it, 15 yards a carry, I was the man. Then coming into summer and running all those laps, I was kind of fat, and it was hard to adjust to all of that."
Nix's mind constantly wavered on playing or not playing. Head coach at the time Cedric Thornton, was really beginning to lose his patience. Defensive coordinator Deran Wiley, who took over for Thornton as the top man this fall, saw that Nix couldn't waste his potential.
"I remember the first time I saw Louis," Wiley began. "Big guy came through the door as I was sitting in the office, and he said I'm looking to play football. I was like wow because he was so big."
Nix was a plump 5-foot-11, 260-pounds at the time, and Wiley knew there was a lot of work to be done.
"It started kind of hard for him. He wasn't used to the tough conditioning. Louis quit five times because the conditioning was such a beast.
"As the assistant coach, I was the one lobbying for him, like hey coach, he'll get right. He came in wet behind the ears, very raw, but you could see the potential was unlimited."
Wiley, who played cornerback at Louisville before returning to his hometown of Jacksonville, was absolutely right.
Every morning for the rest of the summer, Wiley would drive over to Nix's house and pick him up at 5 a.m. so he'd make it to the Raines High workouts without any excuses.
"His mom and dad would be like, you could see the look on their face, coach you coming to get this guy, what's wrong with you ringing my doorbell this early in the morning?"
Wiley was investing in a kid's future. With Nix showing up everyday, Thornton and the rest of the Vikings coaching staff bought in,
"They kept on me, they stuck with me," Nix said. "Coach T and coach Wiley told me to really push myself, try and be better than what I am, lose a couple pounds, get in shape and then maybe I'll be able to do something instead of just walking around here being lazy and out of shape. I pushed myself and I ended up one day thinking, I'm running, I'm not as tired as I used to be and I can really do this."
For everything they did that summer, Nix will be forever grateful to those men that pushed him.
Now standing in at 6-foot-3, 320-pounds, Nix grew into one of the most sought after college recruits in the country. At one time, the dominant defensive lineman held over 40 scholarship offers before verbally committing to Miami nearly a year ago last November. Since then, Nix has opened the door to a few other programs, and he's also considering Florida, Notre Dame and a Southeastern Conference program that he wants to keep nameless. Nix knows that if Wiley wouldn't of been there to push him and pick him up everyday bright and early, that he wouldn't be wearing a shirt and tie to Raines High this week.
"I'd be in trouble somewhere," Nix stated. "Probably an alternative school or something like that. I've met a lot of friends playing football, and a lot of buddies I know neighborhood wise that stay by me, are probably in jail. A couple of them are dead."
Nix played varsity his freshman season and really fell in love with the game. However, it still hadn't dawned on him that the gridiron could help pave the way for his future.
Then he saw a college campus, the University of Florida for the first time.
"One of my guidance counselors played for the Florida Gators, and he brought me to a college campus and I saw that I could actually do something with myself," Nix said. "I felt like I needed to straighten up and try to do better with my grades that I didn't do in ninth grade, and from the first game of the season I showed out."
Wiley can't forget that game, a 13-8 victory over Mandarin.
"He just obliterated the opponent. I knew then, this kid, Stevie Wonder could see that this was going to be a kid that just blows up."
As a sophomore, Nix began receiving camp invites and hearing from just about every major program in the country. Sept. 1 of his junior year finally rolled around, and the official scholarship offers poured in.
"Getting those scholarships, that put a smile on my face because I got so many at one time," Nix said. "Florida sent me one at home, N.C. State, Miami and all these other schools, great schools, coming at me at one time."
Two short months later, Nix thought he was ready to make his college decision, verbally committing to Randy Shannon and the Hurricanes.
"They're an up and coming program. They're bringing back the past. They were strong, they were winning national championships every two years, and a lot of schools haven't done that. They're bringing back flavor.
"I went down there for the camp and I built a strong relationship with coach (Clint) Hurtt, the defensive line coach. Right now, I'm committed, but I'm still looking around."
Nix considered LSU, Florida State, and Michigan, but now he's down to four. The Gators were always a program he could see himself playing for. He's not the only one in his family that feels the same way.
"My mom still likes them, and I really do love my mom and want to see her a lot, so that's one of the reasons, because they're down the street. I'm a mama's boy, so I would like her to see me as much as possible, and I would want to help out at home in case something happens. They are 30, 45 minutes, an hour away from home, and I grew up watching the Gators, and they have a great program football wise, great athletes."
While Nix was landing scholarship offers left and right, another program kept a close eye on Nix, but needed him to put together another good semester in the classroom before offering. Notre Dame assistant coach Tony Alford kept in touch with Nix, was up front about the school's academic requirements, and told him an Irish offer would be waiting as his GPA continued to go up.
By then, Nix was a regular on the honor roll, and in April of this year, Irish head coach Charlie Weis was able to extend a full ride.
Wiley told his star player that Notre Dame was a great school, but other than that, Nix didn't know a thing about the school in South Bend.
"Growing up, Notre Dame was something I didn't know too much about. It was all about the Floridas and the Miamis and Florida States. My mentor told me I needed to go ask somebody, ask my counselor, who is Notre Dame, just tell them you got offered by Notre Dame and look at their reactions. I talked to a lot of people and said I got offered by this school and that school and this school, and I brought up Notre Dame and their expressions just changed like wow, you got offered by Notre Dame. That's when I came to find out it had to be something special."
Nix got to see for himself in late June, camping at Notre Dame for three days. He took an official visit to the Irish campus in September for the Michigan State game, and returned again in October for the USC game.
"I know now that I can fit in at Notre Dame."
Nix also knows he has a very tough decision ahead of him.
"I'm going to seal the deal probably after football season, a little bit after football season," Nix said. Raines has two more regular season games before the state playoffs begin. "That will give me time to weigh options, and just cut pros and cons, and write things down and talk to a couple coaches.
"Then when I do it, I want to tell the schools that are not in the picture anymore, that I don't want to go to their school even though they're a great program, this is where I want to go and that's final."
When Nix does make his final decision, nobody will be prouder than Wiley.
"Louis has came a long way. At first I'll have to be honest with you, I wasn't sure about Louis. I wasn't very sure about him the person, the football player of course, but the person I wasn't sure about. From this point on looking back, Louis has came 100 miles and running as far as his character. He's come a long way to be a good citizen and understand you have to get people to like you for who you are and not what you do."
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