Notre Dame's junior nose guard ended the 2011 season disconsolate on the bench as the Irish blew a 14-point lead in the Champs Sports Bowl -- vs. a team he grew up rooting against.
The annual rejuvenation of spring ball never materialized, with Nix opining on social media about a variety of frustrations, none of which reflected his normally gregarious, happy-go-lucky demeanor. Those tweets and posts, coupled with public status as nose guard No. 2 behind unheralded classmate Kona Schwenke, lingered into the off-season and fall camp.
Never in the doghouse but not then in the staff's good graces, head coach Brian Kelly noted last spring when a fall Saturday rolls around, Nix becomes a new man. But that's not the totality of player responsibility under the Kelly regime.
"We expect them to be better than they were a year ago. Not just on Saturday, they have to work that way (every day)," said offensive line coach Mike Elston. "In practice they need to improve in everything they do. Their attitude, they way they approach every single drill.
"That's my expectation. The expectation from the people outside is they have to get sacks, more tackles; that they have to be more disruptive. My expectation is that's going to come with punching the clock every day and raising their level of work."
Judging by his first two outings in 2012, t's a message Nix heard loud and clear.
"He was terrific," said Kelly specifically of Nix's effort in Saturday's three-point win over Purdue. "He's one of those guys that, you're absolutely right, played at a championship level. That's what part of the challenge to our football team is to get all of our players to play at a championship level on a consistent basis."
Just as he wiped his off-season slate clean with a strong August camp and opening act, Nix now treats the forthcoming game in East Lansing as a new entity, especially in the wake of the standout performance the Irish defensive front put forth vs. the Green and White last September in South Bend.
"That was last year. I played well but I'm trying to play better," said Nix of a team effort that held the Spartans to 29 rushing yards on 21 carries. "It's the same for them. They probably didn't play up to their standards so it comes down now to them getting some revenge, coming for me and whoever else is in front of them, just like we would. I expect a hard game."
Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and since departed Aaron Lynch and Ethan Johnson dominated last season's contest. This year the Spartans are ranked 10th and should the 19th-ranked gang from South Bend emerge victorious it would mark the first time since 1983 that Notre Dame won a road night tilt vs. a Top 10 team (0-10).
Hype and history are less of a concern for Nix that the bodies he'll bang with Saturday night.
"It's just a regular game to me; prepare the same as I do every week. They have biiig o-line, big tough guys that'll push you around," said Nix. "They have a tough running back that knows how to hit the hole. He's a big guy as well so we have to try to get him to the ground a couple of times."
Nix's first two contests have yielded seven stops including three for lost yardage with 1.5 sacks and a pair of passes broken up at the line of scrimmage. The latter number is tied with cornerback Bennett Jackson for the team high through two contests and were just the second and third of Nix's 15-game Irish career.
"Those were great. You don't come across them too often," said Nix of a defensive lineman's play on the ball. "I swear I want an interception some day. I hope it'll happen."
Pressed for his vertical leap on both pass breakups Nix noted, "About an inch or two (off the ground). Maybe a centimeter."
Known to be a bit garrulous in a media setting, Nix instead summed up Saturday's matchup with the Spartans succinctly.
"They have big guys that want to push me around so I have to push back."