Jan. 15, 2013
Former Boston College All-America linebacker Luke Kuechly - selected ninth overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 2012 NFL Draft - led the NFL with 164 tackles as a rookie. Kuechly is back on campus this semester taking courses and sat down with BCEagles.com to reflect on his rookie season, what it feels like to be back on campus, and BC football.
From your days at Saint Xavier High School to BC to the NFL, you've come a long way in a short time. What has the journey been like for you, and what do you miss most about playing at the high school and college levels?
The journey goes fast. I think that's the thing you don't realize. High school was four years ago. It goes fast - you don't believe how quick it goes. You're a senior in high school then you come here your freshman year and try to figure things out. As you get to your sophomore year you start to figure it out. Then in my junior year I walked in, and I was like, `All right, I'm finally getting it figured out.' Then `bam' I leave.
I think being at BC was a lot of fun, and I don't think you realize how much you miss it until it's gone. It's good being back. I think the team aspect of college football is what is a little bit different than the NFL. It's a job. Guys go in, and then they go back to their families versus in college when you go back to your dorms and everyone's still there. The journey's been good. You learn a lot along the way, and you meet a lot of good people. I think the two things I've taken away from it are who you meet and how fast it goes so you've got to take advantage of it.
Moving to the NFL, what were the biggest adjustments you had to make both on and off the field?
I think the biggest adjustment on the field was the speed of the game. Guys have been around. In college you get a guy that's a third-year, fourth-year guy and maybe they didn't play their first couple of years so they've only got two years of experience. In the NFL, you've got a guy that's been playing for eight years - same position, same everything - so he's got it figured out. He knows where he's going, he knows how to get there, and he knows all the tricks. The speed of the game and the knowledge of guys are better.
Off the field, I think the meeting times in the NFL are different. In college you meet for an hour or two a day, maybe. In the NFL it's all day. You go to practice, you meet, you go to walkthrough, you meet, you practice then you come back and you meet again. I think those are the two things - the meeting times and the speed of the game.
You led the NFL in tackles (164) as a rookie this past season. What were your expectations heading into the season and what does it take to have that kind of success?
I think the expectations were kind of what they were at BC - go in, work hard, do what you're told, and see what happens. That's really all that you can do. I wanted to go in and pick up the playbook quick. I wanted to make an impact however that was. I really didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't really know where I was going to be playing. I just knew that I've got to go in and do what I can. It's a process. Just like being at BC, in Carolina I've had guys around me that were really helpful.
Your production increased after moving from outside to middle linebacker in week five. What strengths do you try to use as a middle linebacker?
I think the middle linebacker spot is where I was comfortable - that's what I did here at BC. I think moving back to where I was comfortable helped. Our defenses are relatively the same. There are a lot of similarities from what we did here at BC and what we do in Carolina. I think having a couple years at the `Mike' here helped me there. I just felt more comfortable. I felt it was a more natural position for me than the `Will.' You can go both ways on the defense. It kind of just started clicking. I started to understand what was going on, and that made it a little easier.
The Panthers finished the season at 7-9, but you won your last four games. Looking ahead to next season what sort of progress do you see being made?
I think the whole year we knew what we could do, but we came up short in some games. We weren't able to play a full game, and I think that's what hurt us. There were quite a few games that you look back on where we were winning in the fourth quarter at the end of the game, but they hit a play here, they hit a play there, we didn't make a play, and we end up losing. I think towards the end of the season, those last couple of games, we figured it out. We finished games, we put teams away, and that's what we've got to do next season.
This past season at BC, Nick Clancy picked up where you left off leading the ACC in tackles (145) as a senior. How much do you enjoy seeing a guy like Nick have that sort of success and watching the development of the team's other linebackers?
He did a good job. I think it's a credit to Nick. He's been bumped around a lot. He played `Will,' he played `Sam.' I think he found a spot where he was able to thrive. The middle linebacker spot is a fun spot. You're all over the field, and you get to make a lot of plays. I think he did a good job doing that. He paid attention, he studied, and I think he did a good job stepping up.
You're back at Boston College taking courses this semester. What does it mean to you to finish your degree?
It's really important finishing what you start. It's going to be interesting. It's going to be fun. I'm glad to be back. I've got to take a couple classes and take some online classes, and I should be able to finish up. My mom will be happy, and that's what matters. It'll be good to be back and finish what I started.