SOUTH BEND - Louis Nix was more of a puzzle than a prospect when Brian Kelly first checked out the recruiting prospects he inherited in December of 2009 from the exiled Charlie Weis regime.
The nose guard from Raines High School in Jacksonville, Fla., actually had decommitted from Miami (Fla.) and committed to ND in the short interlude between Weis’ purge as Note Dame’s head football coach and Kelly’s coronation.
"I liked his personality," Kelly recalled. "As I got to know him, (I saw) a lot of pride, especially coming out of Jacksonville, coming out of a school that’s not really a profile school (for ND academically).
"He had a lot of pride in wanting to do well here at Notre Dame. Once I saw that, that’s pretty easy for a coach."
The pride still drives Nix, now a 6-foot-3 sophomore, now 42 pounds lighter at 326 than when he arrived and now suddenly a integral piece in Notre Dame’s burgeoning defense as the Irish open the 2011 season Saturday against South Florida.
"It’s not all about sports," said Nix, who figures to get his first college snaps Saturday in a time-share situation with senior Sean Cwynar.
For Nix, it’s also about education. One of 14 children, Nix has seven younger siblings that he said he talks to every day about the value of his ND experience — off the field.
"I’m the second in my family to go to college," he said. "That’s important to my mom and my dad. ... Notre Dame is not the easiest place, coming in, to deal with. But my mom and my dad wanted me to keep fighting through it."
On the field, Nix was fighting himself. At 368, he couldn’t stay on the practice field long enough to make significant progress last fall. That began to change in the spring, and in August he bumped it up another level.
"He's been very consistent in his approach," Kelly said. "We've gotten to know Louis a lot better as a staff. We know when to push him, we know when to back off, and I think what he's brought to our attention is that he can be that consistent guy day in and day out."
Notre Dame senior receiver Michael Floyd heads into Saturday’s opener with Florida needing eight receptions to pass Jeff Samardzija and become ND's career receptions leader.
He needs three 100-yard receiving games to pass Golden Tate and become No. 1 in school history in that category. Floyd needs 55 yards to pass Samardzija at No. 2 on the career receiving yards list and 169 yards to pass Tate for the No. 1 spot.
Floyd already tops the career TD reception list with 28. Floyd's 28 career TD receptions are second among active players in the FBS, behind only Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles (35).
Kelly said he doesn’t feel the need to stagger his freshman defensive players, namely ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, so that they’re not in the game at the same time.
"Once we have confidence in a player, we’re going to put them in the game."
Kelly said he isn’t looking for his players to have to do an algebra problem on the field when the new 10-second run-off rule comes into play this season.
Now, if a team commits a penalty in the final minute of each half, the opponent has the option to take the yardage and a 10-second run-off, take just the yardage, or decline the penalty all together.
Kelly said the coaching staff would make the call.
"Those are things we talk about with the referee," Kelly said. "It’s like, ‘Look, if we have those kinds of situations, get my attention and we’ll make the decision from the sideline.’ "
Staff writer Eric Hansen: