“IF YOU CAN BELIEVE IT, THE MIND CAN ACHIEVE IT.”
Luke Kuechly is Clark Kent in Cleats
- Updated: February 10, 2014
When Luke Kuechly’s name was first broached to the Pacific Club IMPACT Foundation Board of Directors as a candidate for the 2011 Lott IMPACT Trophy, there was some skepticism.
After all, Kuechly’s Boston College team was mired in a losing season and major college football awards rarely go to players who perform on non-winning teams.*
But the Board saw beyond BC’s dismal record (the Eagles finished 4-8) and Kuechly made it to the finals, arriving in Newport Beach for the annual Lott IMPACT Trophy Banquet in December, his disappointing season over before the bowl games.
He was part of a terrific Final Four with future Lott IMPACT winner Manti Te’o of Notre Dame, Alabama’s huge Dont’a Hightower, who would go on to star for the New England Patriots, and Texas’ brilliant Emmanuel Acho.
With his horn-rimmed glasses and scholarly manner, Kuechly looked more librarian than linebacker.
Turns out Luke Kuechly is Clark Kent in cleats.
He led the whole wide country in tackles with 191 that year and was named a consensus first-team All-American as both a sophomore and junior.
The Lott IMPACT Trophy National Voter Panel of more than 200 former players and coaches, also saw past Boston College’s record, though, and recognized Kuechly’s character and performance, voting him the winner of the eighth Lott IMPACT Trophy. It was, of course, not only Kuechly’s sterling play on the field that won him the Lott, but his academic excellence, his leadership and his community involvement, all attributes that Lott candidates must possess.
To say the voters got it right is to say college football is big in the South. After being selected in the first round (9th overall) by the Carolina Panthers in the 2012 draft, Kuechly went on to be named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and at the conclusion of the 2013 season was chosen NFL Defensive Player of the Year. It was the second consecutive year that a Lott IMPACT Trophy winner was recognized as the top defensive player in the NFL as J.J. Watt (Wisconsin and the Houston Texans) was the 2012 recipient.
Kuechly, a tackling machine of the highest order, recorded a team leading 156 total tackles and led a defense that finished 2nd in the NFL in points allowed. Against the Saints late in the season, Kuechly recorded a phenomenal 24 tackles and had a key interception against Drew Brees.
Following his rookie season, Kuechly, who had left Boston College following his junior season, returned to the campus and finished his education. Among his classes were Marketing Research and Applied Marketing. Kuechly told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King:
“I see some old friends on campus and they say, ‘What are you doing here? Visiting friends?’ I tell them I’m back taking classes, finishing my degree, and they said, ‘Why are you doing that?’ Football ends. You’ve got to be able to fall back on something, and I’m glad to be able to come back to do something I always knew I wanted to do – get my degree and be ready for life after football whenever that is.
“It’s really important finishing what you start. My mom will be happy, and that’s what matters. It’ll be good to be back and finish what I started.” (It should be noted that Kuechly signed a four-year $12.58 million contract in 2012).
Kuechly – as he did as a collegian – is a reliable volunteer for numerous charities. Most recently, he’s been featured in the NFL’s Play 60 Initiative, which encourages kids to exercise for 60 minutes a day.
But, of course, it has been on the field that Kuechly has drawn the most attention.
“I’m a big fan of ‘Luuuuuuuke’ Kuechly,” said Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. “He’s just a person that holds himself to a standard that failure is not an option for him.”
“The kid’s phenomenal. He never ceases to amaze me,” said Jon Beason, a three-time Pro Bowl selection. “It’s like he’s always got something new up his sleeve. He’s a great kid, but all that’s a tribute to the time, the effort, the preparation he puts in and makes him go out and make big plays.
“I love that when that passion comes out of him, maybe a sprawl or a flex or something like that. But then, off the field? Completely unassuming, we’d walk right by him, and you wouldn’t even know he was an NFL player… kind of has that Clark Kent air about him. That’s why I call him ‘Super Luke’.”