Luke Kuechly is widely considered to be one of the top linebackers of the 21st century. Luke grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio where he went to St. Xavier High School where he was a three-star athlete. During his junior year, Luke helped led them to a perfect 15-0 record and a Division 1 Ohio State Title. During his final two seasons at St. Xavier Luke played linebacker and safety. He amassed totaling 247 tackles, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, three interceptions, and one touchdown. Several Division 1 schools were recruiting him including Duke, Stanford, Virginia, and Boston College.
Luke was named the starting outside linebacker, as a freshman, in place of Mark Herzlich who had announced he was diagnosed with cancer. Luke stepped in and record 158 total tackles. Which made him the ACC tackles leader and second in the country. Luke’s dominance earned him 2009 ACC Defensive Rookie of The Year and earned First-Team All-ACC recognition. In his sophomore season, he took an even bigger step toward national recognition as he moved to the middle linebacker position.
During his second season in Chestnut Hill, Luke led the country in tackles with 183 and was named a finalist for the Butkus and the Nagurski Awards. Luke was also recognized as a unanimous First-Team All-American. Luke’s third and final season of collegiate football would be considered a success to most as Luke led the country again in tackles with 191, but the team success which he valued more than anything was not there. As the Eagles ended the season 4-8. Luke’s junior season was one for the record books as he filled his trophy case quite nicely with the Butkus Trophy, Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award, Jack Lambert Trophy, ACC Defensive Player of The Year, Consensus First-Team All-American recognition, and First-Team All-ACC recognition.
After Luke’s junior season at Boston College, he decided to forgo his final season and enter the 2012 NFL Draft. Throughout the process, Luke was considered by everybody to be a lock for the first round after a strong combine. Ron Rivera decided to take a chance, and selected Luke with the ninth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Luke was a day-one starter in Carolina, although not at the position he believed he was being drafted for. Second Year coach Ron Rivera decided to start Luke as an outside linebacker to start the 2012 season because he believed the defense would benefit from Jon Beason’s experience.
That did not last very long as Beason was put on IR early in the season due to a torn Achilles tendon, which left Rivera no choice but to move Kuechly to the middle linebacker position. Luke finished his rookie campaign leading the entire NFL with 164 tackles while still totaling two interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Making him the easy choice for 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of The Year.
How would he follow up his rookie year? Luke would combine for 156 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks, and ten tackles for loss. Earning him the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of The Year award and helping lead the Carolina Panthers to a 12-4 record and a visit to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season.
The 2015 season for Luke and the Panthers was a magical one. September started with Luke being rewarded financially for his play on the field with a five-year $62 million extension. The deal made him the highest-paid middle linebacker in the NFL. Luke would play in 13 games totaling 118 tackles, one sack, 4 interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a touchdown. Those stats helped Carolina Panthers to a franchise-best 15-1 record and a to Super Bowl 50. Unfortunately, Luke and the Panthers would lose to the Broncos 24-10. Although the Panther’s season ended with a loss, Luke had an unbelievable postseason that saw him snag two interceptions, two touchdowns, and a forced fumble in three games.
Following the 2015 season, Luke made his third straight Pro Bowl appearance, earned First-Team All-Pro for the third straight season, and came in seventh best in the entire NFL on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2016 list which is selected by the players.
Concussions would be the name of the game for Luke in the following seasons. Kuechly suffered three over a three season span. However, that would not stop him from making an impact when he was on the field. By the end of 2018, Luke had been selected to his sixth straight Pro Bowl. In 2019, he returned with 144 tackles, one safety, two interceptions, and four tackles for loss. He was selected to his seventh Pro Bowl team and was recognized as a Second-Team All-Pro.
Shortly after the Panther’s season ended, Luke unexpectedly retired at the age of 28. Although Luke was coming off a back-to-back season where he played in every game and earned All-Pro recognition. Luke cited that he was afraid that he was not the same player physically as he once was and felt it was time to move on.
Post Playing Career
Luke is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Decade Team for the 2010s. As the 2016 Carolina Panthers Ed Block Courage Award Recipient, Luke embodied everything that we appreciate in our players. His grit, determination, and perseverance admired.
In 2020, Luke returned to the sidelines a scout for the Carolina Panthers. In 2021 he assisted his former defensive coordinator, and current head coach for the Buffalo Bills Sean McDermott. Luke works with a foundation called “Project Life Movement“. The foundation strives to “save lives and cure diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell disease by growing the number of potential bone marrow and stem cell donors on the global registry.”