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After rough spring, Irish nose guard Louis Nix having fun again

STANFORD CA - NOVEMBER 26:  Louis Nix III #9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish tackles Anthony Wilkers#32 Stanford Cardinal Stanford

STANFORD, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Louis Nix III #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish tackles Anthony Wilkerson #32 of the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Louis Nix III; Anthony Wilkerson

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Updated: September 15, 2012 6:11AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — One look at junior nose guard Louis Nix III’s official Notre Dame mug shot — head back, eyes wide, eyebrows raised, a comically oversized toothy grin — gives you an idea about how seriously this guy takes himself.

His ‘‘Irish Chocolate’’ nickname, conjured up during a Facebook discussion with fans during the NBA Finals, and his ‘‘Chocolate News’’ segments on YouTube don’t hurt, either.

But mention last spring, and Nix’s big smile fades in a hurry. Suddenly, he’s not a jocular jock but a frustrated giant.

‘‘I think we talk about that too much,’’ he said, shaking his head. ‘‘Spring was spring. That was yesterday. It’s today now.’’

But it’s impossible to talk about Nix’s future at Notre Dame without talking about his past. Despite a breakthrough 2011 season in which he started 11 games and plugged the middle of the Irish’s defensive line with 45 tackles, a lackluster spring effort cost Nix his spot at the top of the depth chart. Converted defensive end Kona Schwenke, a junior with two tackles in two years, now resides there.

And while coach Brian Kelly was calling for more consistency from him, Nix — both on Twitter and in person — sounded like a man who was considering leaving the program.

Well, Nix stayed. And he is starting to look like his old self again — on the field, on a microphone and online.

But much as he rather would be talking about the latest ‘‘Chocolate News,’’ his beloved Miami Heat or his latest chat session with Irish fans, he knows he still has plenty to prove — to Kelly, to his teammates and to Notre Dame fans.

‘‘I just keep learning and keep improving on whatever Coach says I need to improve on,’’ Nix said. ‘‘Last year he said he needed to see consistency out of me, so I’m trying to provide that. If he tells me he needs 20 sacks, I’ll try my best to provide 20 sacks. It’s all about working with the coaches. He tells me what I need to do, and that’s what I do.’’

While Schwenke still is listed ahead of Nix, both figure to play prominent roles for the Irish’s defense. With Nix tipping the scales at 326 pounds and Schwenke weighing in at 290, neither can be expected to play every down.

‘‘Louis and Kona have to share playing time,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘I don’t know of a nose guard in college football that’s that big that can play all 70-something snaps. They’re really so close. We’re pleased with Louis; his consistency has been excellent. They’re both going to play a ton of football for us.’’

Nix said that he’s fine with the platoon system and that he and Schwenke have made each other — and the defense as a whole — better. The more powerful Nix has helped Schwenke at the point of attack, while the more nimble Schwenke has helped Nix move more quickly and become more flexible. And Nix said the competition has helped.

‘‘It’s never pressure, always motivation,’’ he said.

Nix never has made it a secret that his long-term goal is an individual one — to make the NFL so he can help out his large family back in Jacksonville, Fla.

But after a troublesome spring, he’s doing everything he can to be the player who won over fans and coaches last fall — a team-first guy in the locker room, a fan favorite online and most important, a dominating force on the line of scrimmage.

‘‘I guess you could say [the change] is mental, but I don’t necessarily think it was mental,’’ he said. ‘‘It was just me getting my head on straight.

‘‘There were a lot of things I was worried about, and I didn’t have my head on straight. I’m fine now.’’

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