Louis Nix couldve stayed home in Florida, content to play at a university where football would be his main focus. But Nix, a four-star defensive tackle out of Jacksonville, chose to go north to Notre Dame, where student-athletes often have to do more than pay lip service to academics. That classroom challenge and potential for success motivated Nix and was a point in Notre Dames favor when it came time for him to choose his university.
Coming up when I was getting recruited, going to different schools in Florida, and hearing from people that went to college for football, they told me itd be a little bit easy, class wouldnt be that hard, blah blah blah, Nix recalled earlier this year. They told me, you come here, its not going to be that easy, youre going to have to push yourself. And me, I like pushing myself. I like to take up a challenge. Right now, Im almost to a 3.0. I just like taking up challenges, and I think thats a good thing.
Recruiting is a cutthroat business, especially when it comes to blue-chip prospects, and even more when those players hail from the South. But two of Notre Dames biggest recent gets from SEC territory -- Nix and defensive end Stephon Tuitt -- mentioned they wanted to challenge themselves academically.
We're going to validate that this year, obviously with the No.1 graduation rates that you can do both, and they don't have to be mutually exclusive in college football, coach Brian Kelly boasted in November.
That message didnt fall on deaf ears. Five-star class of 2013 running back Greg Bryant committed to Notre Dame on Sunday, and his dads explanation of the verbal commitment had nothing to do with the teams success on the field.
"One hundred percent (graduation rate) for minority athletes, 97 percent for team graduation," Greg Bryant, Sr., told Rivals.com affiliate Irish Illustrated. "I like those odds. Everyone else (is) 50 percent or below. It's bigger than the game of football."
Bryant told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel -- which characterized his commitment to Notre Dame as a shocker -- prior to the season he expected to commit to an SEC school. And no doubt, Notre Dames success in 2012 certainly played a major factor in Bryant choosing the Irish.
The Irish have built an impressive class of 2013, one which Rivals.com ranks No. 2 nationally. Kelly and his coaching staff have signed 15 four or five-star recruits to date, the largest crop of blue-chip prospects the school has brought in since 2008.
Related: Four Chicago-area prep players make Rivals Top 100 list
Notre Dames on-field success is its biggest selling point -- for the first time in over two decades, a coach can legitimately tell a high schooler hell have a chance to win championships at Notre Dame. But just as important of a pitch is that, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Notre Dame is the first school to be ranked No. 1 in the BCS and have the nations top graduation rate.
I think if you have the football program that has the highest graduation rates and is also a team that is competing for a national championship, I would qualify that as good for NCAA football, Kelly said earlier. You have something that has both ends working towards excellence.