Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 4/27/12
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Luke Kuechlys dad played soccer at Xavier, his little brother plays high school basketball in the Cincinnati area, and a few years ago, Luke was a lacrosse player getting feelers from colleges. Luke even played some hoops back in the day, though his career ended in eighth grade because he couldnt shoot. Such a finessed skill isn't exactly required in Kuechlys new job as linebacker for the Carolina Panthers, but what makes him different could also make him a star in the NFL. Carolina selected Kuechly with the ninth overall pick in Thursdays night first round of the NFL Draft. It was a "no brainer,'' said coach Ron Rivera, when the Panthers' spot came up and the linebacker from Boston College was still on the board. So they took him. He made nearly 16 tackles per game and averaged 14 a contest over his college career, but could care less about stats. "I think football is a team game, and I think personal records are only that,'' Kuechly said Friday afternoon at Bank of America Stradium. "And dont think anyone goes into a game with the mind-set of 'I want to set a record.' You want to set a record, set how about team?'' A year ago, the Panthers selected Cam Newton with the top overall pick and it worked out quite well, as he set numerous records in winning the Rookie of the Year award. Kuechly may not earn such accolades this coming fall, but his selection was important enough for Newton to call him Thursday night and make a point of meeting him Friday at the teams offices. What did Newton see? A curly, brown-haired man standing 6-foot-3, weighing in at 240 pounds, donning glasses and some gashes on both of his large hands. They were linebackers hands, big enough to bring so many ball carriers to the ground. If Newton is the face of the franchise, maybe theres room for Kuechly someday to at least be the face of the defense. He has those attributes. Offensive guys can be funny and even somewhat flamboyant, like Newton. But people want their defensive guys to be no-frills, hard-nosed dudes who live to hit opponents as hard as they can. Carolina has that in Kuechly, but they also have more. He loves to fish and was excited to learn of the many watering holes in the Charlotte region. He was a 3.0 student at BC and has eight classes left to earn a degree in marketing. Hes intent on completing the course work. Kuechly is a family-first guy and someone who respects those in front of him. When asked about the possibility of middle linebacker Jon Beason moving outside to accommodate his greatest strength, Kuechly rejected the notion before saying the right thing. "You have to come in, you have to be humble because youre starting new, starting over again and you cant come in with an overly big head because you havent done anything yet,'' he said. "You might have done alright in college, but moving forward it's a different game at a different level.'' He grew up a Cincinnati Bengals fan, but the biggest influences on Kuechly were and remain his family. "My family is probably my biggest ones; my mom, my dad and my two brothers,'' he said. "They've always talked about football is tough and theres always going to be someone better than you. One thing my dad taught me was, 'You dont get anywhere by yourself. Theres always people around you that help you get better. So when you get somewhere you have to thank the people that helped you get there.''' In the Panthers, Kuechly will get plenty of education. The franchise believes its ascent last season going from 1-15 in 2010 to 6-10 will continue this fall. But it needs Kuechly to perform for this to happen. The defense ranked 28th in total yards allowed and scoring, so a healthy Beason, wherever he may play, and Kuechly could make a huge difference. Kuechlys looking forward to picking Beasons brain, to make this happen, among others. "My football IQ, I had a lot of help from guys when I got to school at BC,'' said Kuechly, who began playing football in fourth grade. "A lot of the older guys when I got there showed me how important it was to study your opponent, how helpful it was to learn what they were trying to do to you. Combine that intelligence with a little bit of speed.'' Among the adjustments for Kuechly is that BC didnt play man-to-man pass coverage. But Rivera is confident Kuechly can handle anything thrown his way, a reason the team doesnt want to mess with his 240-pound frame. "At 240, the kid ran a 4.58,'' Rivera said Friday. "So, at that, that's outstanding. Whether he's playing Sam, Mike or Will, with that kind of ability to run, Im not concerned with that.'' Rivera and the Panthers probably arent going to be concerned about much regarding Kuechly on or off the field.
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