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Thursday, November 15, 2012
Raiders' Lucas Nix keeps on smiling

By Adena Andrews

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum isn't known for its fan-friendly environment. Raider Nation's rowdiest fans -- who call themselves the "Black Hole" -- can be downright intimidating.

Raiders rookie offensive lineman Lucas Nix's personality is in stark contrast to this group. Teammates and coaches know him as smiley and goofy. Nix is the guy who's always messing around, even in the most serious moments. With his "super trooper mustache" and misguided rookie haircut, it's hard not to smile in his presence. And that's the way he likes it.

The 23-year-old, who played his college football at Pitt, maintains his jovial demeanor by not taking himself too seriously. If his life were a movie, it would look something like a football version of his favorite film "The Hangover" (minus the liquor) because of his close-knit group of friends.

"I'd probably be Alan, the idiot of the group, because I'm just a big kid." Nix said. "That movie is hilarious."

His friends constantly joke with each other. Jokes were at an all-time high when Nix received an Uncle Fester-type haircut as part of his NFL rookie initiation. Though they poked fun at him, his friends understood the rookie pain. His friends and former high school teammates Dom DeCicco and Jason Pinkston have also played in the NFL. Pinkston is still active with the Cleveland Browns. The joke battles between his friends can go all night and end in the occasional wrestling match. Nix said it is all in love and keeps him grounded.

Self-conscious and reflective aren't in Nix's vocabulary, and it works to his advantage. He doesn't spend much time stressing about mistakes he's made or what he should have done. That mentality has kept him sane as he pays his dues in the lower ranks of the offensive lineman depth chart.

Nix played all four preseason games for the Raiders but has not seen any snaps in the regular season. Regardless of playing time, he is having the time of his life being part of the NFL brotherhood that he nearly missed out on.

As a junior, Nix was listed by scouts as one of the most skilled offensive linemen in the Big East. The NFL was in his future. However, his draft stock fell and his dream was almost derailed after a knee injury his senior year limited his playing time. He also faced criminal charges for public drunkenness, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct after an altercation with some West Virginia players last December. But Nix hoped his large build (6-foot-5, 317 pounds) -- which matches his drive -- would entice a team to take a chance on him.

"If I wasn't playing football, I'd probably be playing football; there's really nothing else I love to do more," said Nix, who ended up making the Raiders' roster as an undrafted free agent.

That type of simplicity is the epitome of the small-town boy who went to college just 20 minutes from his home in Jefferson Hills, Pa. Nix is all about family and football. So much so, his brothers and teammates from Thomas Jefferson High School joined him in college, where he majored in criminal justice. (Nix is 14 units from graduation.) When he got the call from the Raiders to head to the West Coast, it took him away from everything he knew. But because of technology, specifically video games, Nix and his friends have stayed close.

"When I'm not on the field practicing, I'm probably playing video games with my buddies back home," Nix said. "I don't get out much, so I play 'Call of Duty' online with them and it gets pretty heated."

When he's not in virtual reality, he's all about football. He studies the playbook and veteran players -- trying to glean all he can about their approach to the game. That type of 24/7 football mentality fits perfectly with the Raiders, who are known for their tenacious style. Nix has a mean streak on the field, according to Optimum Scouting.

"It's how I always played. I was taught and coached to be aggressive," said Nix, according to the scouting site. "I like to get after it and show I could dominate the defense."

After signing with the Raiders, Nix was introduced to the grown-man game of the NFL, and the learning curve was steep. He had to get right or get left behind."The terminology and how much they overload you with the first couple of days," said Nix, according to the Silver and Black Pride blog. "It's almost like a test within itself to just make sure you don't mentally crack and give up."

Nix is still learning and hopes to see playing time before the end of the season. Unfortunately, time isn't always on the side of a 53rd man. Like the seconds in a two-minute drill, an NFL career can go by in a single snap. While playing time may not be guaranteed, what is guaranteed is that this offensive lineman makes big hits with his smile.