HANSEN: Notre Dame Nation mourns the death of former football star Louis Nix III
In a pre-Christmas catch-up discussion that turned into a heart-to-heart talk, Louis Nix III, who had rattled off answers to both routine and profound questions, had a deep one of his own.
"Do you think I mattered?" he asked.
Mattered beyond football, he went on to clarify. Mattered because that was the promise he made himself when he first showed up to enroll at Notre Dame in the summer of 2010.
The heartache Notre Dame Nation is feeling upon hearing the news Saturday night that the 29-year-old former Irish star nose guard had died doesn't even begin to tell the story of how much self-nicknamed "Irish Chocolate" mattered.
Stephanie Wingfield, Nix's mother, confirmed his death to Jacksonville, Florida, television reporter Ben Backer Saturday night, roughly 24 hours after she enlisted his help in reporting Nix missing.
NBC Sports reported that the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office pulled a car from a pond near Nix's apartment Saturday that matched his vehicle's description. Wingfield had told Becker that the last time she had seen her son alive was Tuesday.
Nix's death comes a little less than three months after the 29-year-old survived being shot in the chest during a Dec. 8 bungled armed robbery attempt at a Jacksonville gas station.
He spent 11 days in the hospital, suffering a fractured sternum with the bullet still lodged in his left lung after doctors deemed it too risky to remove it.
The aftershocks of being ambushed while putting air in his car's tire the night of the attempted robbery haunted Nix.
"I went out shopping with my girl to get my mom a birthday gift, and it was crazy," Nix told the Tribune after coming home from the hospital. "You wouldn't think you'd feel like that, but I was just paranoid being around people.
"People coming up from behind me, coming out of nowhere. I felt like I just needed to see everything, and it was kind of emotional in the moment.
"I didn't think it'd be like this. My job ( Cintas Corp.) is going to provide a therapist for me, and I'm open to talking about this issue. Hopefully, they'll help me get past that point and learn how to deal with it, because at this point, I really don't want to leave the house again."
More than $41,000 was raised through Nix's GoFundMe page to help offset medical expenses and missed work.
Nix played for the Irish from 2010-13, He redshirted as a freshman, then ascended to become a standout on the 2012 team that reached the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama.
He battled injuries in 2013, then declared for the draft after the season instead of returning to ND for a fifth year. He was still able to keep a promise to his mom to get his ND degree.
The Houston Texans selected Nix in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, but multiple knee surgeries kept him from ever appearing in an NFL game for Houston or the three other teams he'd sign with after his initial release. His last contact was with the Jacksonville Jaguars for four months early in 2017.
Nix lost his brother, Louis Nix Jr., when the younger Nix was in middle school and his brother was 30 years old in a case Jacksonville police classified as a murder.
"There are people I went to high school with who are already dead," Louis Nix III said in a 2013 South Bend Tribune profile. "I've seen too much death, been to too many funerals.
"I didn't cry at (my brother's) funeral, but when I got home, it hit me and I broke down in my room. I still think about him a lot."
Nix came to Notre Dame from Raines High School in Jacksonville, the first student ever admitted from that school to ND.
Fellow Raines alum Greg Coleman, who had a 12-year NFL career as a punter, encouraged Nix that he could be a success at Notre Dame and beyond when so many others in his school and neighborhood were feeding him the opposite.
"That gave me the motivation that I could make it," Nix said, "because coming out of Florida, people in Florida will tell you, 'If you go to a school like this, you won't make it. You're going to be right back down in Florida.' And at one time, I thought that, too.
"But I kept pushing at it, and my family was behind me. And now, when kids see I went to their high school and I've been successful at Notre Dame, I think it helps the kids out a lot. It lets him know you can make it here, or you can have the same opportunities. You've just got to work at it."
In other words, you can matter.