Sense of greatness at BC

Kuechly’s instincts serving him well

BC sophomore standout Luke Kuechly is the favorite for the Butkus Award as the best linebacker in college football. BC sophomore standout Luke Kuechly is the favorite for the Butkus Award as the best linebacker in college football. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / November 19, 2010

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His numbers are off the charts — even by his own standards: 19 straight games of double-digit tackles, more than 20 tackles twice (including 21 last week), and a nation-leading 146 tackles, 32 more than any other player.

Those are the tangibles you can attach to linebacker Luke Kuechly’s name in his second season at Boston College.

But there is more than that to the 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound sophomore, who should be the favorite to win the Butkus Award as the best linebacker in college football.

There is this business of finding the ball, which Kuechly does better than almost anyone else.

“He sees it, he diagnoses it, and he reacts,’’ said BC defensive coordinator Billy McGovern, who points out that Kuechly came to BC two years ago with the “RH’’ factor: “He can run and he can hit.’’

Lots of players at the BCS level can do that. But Kuechly’s ability to find the ball has shocked some teams and amazed others.

“A lot of guys have that innate instinct,’’ said BC coach Frank Spaziani. “I’ve been coaching a lot of years, but no one has taken it and turned it into the productivity he has. And he gets better and better every week. He is a very special player.’’

Sometimes Kuechly does things with a flair that draws gasps. That was the case a year ago, in a fourth-and-inches situation at Maryland. With BC clinging to a lead, Kuechly knew he had to make a special play. He did, hurdling both the BC defensive line and the Maryland offensive line to land on quarterback Chris Turner. No gain. BC took over, and won, 19-17.

Kuechly was moved from outside linebacker to middle linebacker this season, which meant more responsibility.

“He has had only 10 games in the middle,’’ said Spaziani. “Compared to playing outside, playing in the middle is like walking across the turnpike at rush hour. It’s a big difference. For him to make the strides he has is amazing.’’

Kuechly says he has no magic formula for success, just “repetition.’’

“You watch things each week and you try and pick up the intricacies of the play and then you go out and practice,’’ he said.

Then he watches more film.

“I watch films three nights a week trying to spot patterns and tendencies,’’ he said. “I watch plays that teams run and try and figure out how I am going to get to the ball. How am I going to do that better?

“You see how things are done and it plants a seed in your head and you say to yourself, ‘You have to get there a little faster to make it work.’ ’’

McGovern said Kuechly has a finely tuned sense of awareness.

“He understands it,’’ said McGovern. “He gets it. He doesn’t look to get blocked. He looks to get to the ball and he’s able to slip and slide and he also has athletic ability.

“He wants to be good. He’s driven like that every day.’’

BC senior linebacker Mike Morrissey has watched with appreciation and sometimes amazement as Kuechly has evolved into an All-American type.

“It’s phenomenal watching him,’’ said Morrissey, whose father Jim played in the National Football League for nine years. “This year he is so much more in attacking mode. His motor never stops.

“I had this conversation with my father a few weeks ago. It’s almost an intangible sense. He understands what [opponents] are trying to do to him and he understands what he can do. My dad said it is a sense that you have.

“And Luke has that to the 10th degree. Whether it’s being physical, whether it’s being smart, or whether it’s being fast, he picks it up right away. He doesn’t care how he gets to it, but he is going to get to that ball.’’

Kuechly will have two more chances to do that in the regular season, and perhaps one more in a bowl game.

The kid from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati who didn’t fit the Ohio State mold of linebacker (not big enough) or defensive back (not fast enough) has fit in very nicely with a BC unit that leads the country in rushing defense. And he should fit just as well into the role as the best linebacker in college football.