Colleen McGovern could tell how special Boston College MLB Luke Kuechly was just from the way her husband spoke about him. Bill McGovern, the defensive coordinator of the Eagles, always talked about his players when he came home from work, but the words he used to describe Kuechly were different.
"The way you talk about him, you use words that you don't usually use: 'He's special. There's something about this guy. He gets it,' " McGovern said. "My wife even said at that time, she goes, 'Bill, when those type of guys come along, enjoy them, because they don't come along that often.'"
As one of America's most productive players during his three years in Chestnut Hill, Kuechly's statistics alone put him in rarefied air. As a freshman, he finished second in the nation with 158 tackles and 87 solo stops. By his sophomore year, he had moved into first place with 183 tackles and 110 solo stops. In 2011, his junior campaign, it was more of the same, as Kuechly led the nation with 191 total tackles and 102 solo tackles.
His fine work continued at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine, in which he was a top performer in nearly every category he competed in. His time of 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash was third among linebackers, as was his vertical leap of 38 inches and his 20-yard shuttle time of 4.12 seconds. He also tied for the lead among linebackers with his 60-yard shuttle time of 11.43 seconds, and finished sixth among linebackers with 27 repetitions in the bench press.
"I was very happy with how I did," said Kuechly, who measures 6-3 1/4, 242 pounds. "For the most part, I did well. I wish I would have maybe done a litle bit better on my shuttles, but other than that, I was very happy with how everything went."
While his performance at Lucas Oil Stadium certainly enhanced his draft stock, he's still slated to come off the board after fellow defenders Quinton Coples, Courtney Upshaw, Michael Brockers, Mark Barron and Morris Claiborne. For his part, McGovern can't see how there are any defensive players ahead of Kuechly in the 2012 NFL draft.
"I don't know that answer," McGovern said. "Those guys all might have a certain skill set that people might want to look for or write about or talk about but I honestly believe and I know for a fact, that there was not a better defensive player in the country than Luke Kuechly this year."
In McGovern's eyes, the best defensive player in the country put forth one of the best efforts he had ever seen when Notre Dame tried to run a version of a hook-and-ladder play against the Eagles. Kuechly switched from one ballcarrier to the other in no time at all, according to his defensive coordinator, to record an impressive tackle.
"That might have been the best play I've ever seen right there," McGovern said. "How fast he was moving, just moving in space, how he diagnosed it so quick, and just bypassed the guy and went to the other guy and swallowed him up like it was nothing. It was as impressive a play as I've seen."
Of course, it's not only about on-the-field accomplishments for Kuechly.
"He would be to me the poster child for any student-athlete in the NCAA," McGovern said. "He's what you want in a young person: outstanding citizen, outstanding student, very competitive, doing it the right way on the field and off the field. But I think the one thing people tend to miss, don't kid yourself, there's nobody more driven than he is."
It was that drive in the classroom, as well as on the football field, that brought Kuechly to Chestnut Hill. A native of the Cincinnati area, Kuechly spurned the hometown Bearcats' offer in favor of a more academically oriented school. He received offers from other academic heavyweights like Virginia, Duke and Stanford but ultimately opted for Boston College.
"The biggest thing was I wanted to go to an academic school, a smaller school," Kuechly said. "It was something that was definitely important. It was one of those things that I tried to use it as a way to get into a school that I wouldn't have been able to get into if I wasn't playing football."
The Eagles also can thank former linebacker and team captain Alex Albright for Kuechly's three years in the maroon and gold.
"The biggest thing was that a guy from St. Xavier (Kuechly's high school in Cincinnati) was up there at Boston College and I could ask him some questions if I had any questions," Kuechly said. "Knowing that he was up there and he had a great time up there and he was doing well up there, it was one of those things that pushed me over the edge."
Upperclassmen like Albright, Mark Herzlich and Wes Davis all helped Kuechly make the transition to college football and feel comfortable on the field.
McGovern was aware that Kuechly was special well before he ever notched a tackle at Alumni Stadium. A simple chat with Greg Toal, the coach at Don Bosco High School, informed him of that fact. Toal, whose New Jersey powerhouse squared off against St. Xavier in 2008, told McGovern that Kuechly was even better than a St. Xavier linebacker who had signed with Wisconsin.
"I talked with Greg," McGovern said. "They had another young man by the name of (Pat) Muldoon who went to Wisconsin and was another good football player, but Greg said to me that kid Kuechly is as good as anyone we've ever seen."
McGovern quickly saw Kuechly's potential with his own eyes. His impact on Boston College was immediate, perhaps more immediate than his coach would have liked. Two of the Eagles' starting linebackers, Mike McLaughlin and Herzlich, were lost before the start of the 2009 season, and into that void stepped Kuechly.
"Luke was a quick learner," McGovern said. "If he made a mistake, he rarely, if ever, made the same mistake again. He was excited about being on the field. He's a driven young man and he wants to be good at what he does."
Kuechly carried his strong performances from the practice field into scrimmages, where he immediately earned the favor of the Eagles' coaching staff. Just as he did throughout his collegiate playing career, Kuechly amazed his coaches by picking up far more tackles than anybody else.
"The thing that was a little different about him was as you checked off tackles and assists, his box had a lot more ticks in it than the other guys," McGovern said. "You could see had a nose for the football, he just had a way of finding the football."
For Kuechly, his superb tackling ability simply comes down to desire and preparation. He mentioned the importance of watching film, studying up on an opposing offense, and perhaps most important, wanting to make a play.
"You got to have the motive, you got to want to make the play, you got to want to be around the ball, you got to want to make the tackle," Kuechly said, "and if that's the mindset that you play, then you're going to be around the ball a lot."
Hardly the biggest hitter in the world, Kuechly said he just wants to get his opponent to the ground.
"The big hits are every once in a while, but with tackling, it's about bringing the guy down and sometimes it's not pretty, but you got to stick somebody," Kuechly said. "For me, you got to get the guy down, and if you get a good smack on him, that's even better."
Kuechly's incredible work ethic continued throughout his years in Chestnut Hill, according to McGovern. So much so, that after a sophomore season in which he led the nation in tackles, Kuechly refused to settle for an already-spectacular status quo.
"He's a guy who came into me after his sophomore year and we talked about where do you want to go with this and he said, 'I want to know the defense as well as you do, coach," McGovern said. "He's a dream. He's the first guy in the meetings, the first guy out for pre-practice, for walk-throughts, he comes back for extra tape on his own."
Unfortunately for McGovern, he didn't get to enjoy Kuechly's presence for quite as long as he would have hoped. After winning the Butkus Award as the nation's best collegiate linebacker in 2011, Kuechly departed for the NFL.
"It was a decision that took a lot of time, took a lot of thought," Kuechly said. "It definitely was a process for me, but the thing that was always there was the opportunity that was right in front of me, something I've always wanted to do, to continue to play football as long as I could."
McGovern has continued to track him even though he is no longer with the Eagles, and said that he could still see Kuechly's intangibles on display at the Combine. As he watched a recording of the action in Indianapolis, he said that he could see his former student helping one of his fellow linebackers with his technique.
"That speaks volumes about him," McGovern said. "Here's a guy that he just met and he might not have even had a chance to greet him and talk to him, but he's willing to help anyone get better."
For his part, Kuechly said he really enjoyed the Combine. He said that he enjoyed meeting all of the great linebackers he had seen on television, and added that it was an experience like none other.
"It's one of those things that people have been asking me about … and it's one of those things that I always say, 'You can't really describe it until you go to it, and kind of witness it and go through it yourself,'" Kuechly said.
After spending hours on the football field, waiting for all 33 linebackers to finish their workouts, and spending additional hours in the media room for a press conference and in the hospital for a check-up, Kuechly said that he is glad the event is over.
"It was something that I was glad I was able to be a part of, but when it was all finished, I was able to get a little sigh of relief that it was all over," Kuechly said. "It will be a relief once I know where I'm going to end up."
For now, that's all Kuechly cares about. As his defensive coordinator said, his linebacker doesn't really care for the spotlight. He just wants a NFL uniform.
"No question, he's one of those kids, he blushes," McGovern said. "He blushes if you make a fuss about him. It's not about him. It's about everybody else and he just wants to go out and just prove himself."
And maybe once he figures out which NFL team he will be on next season, the avid fisherman can finally pull out his hook, line and sinker again.
"It's kind of just you and most of the time with my dad, my brothers and a couple of good friends," Kuechly explained. "You can just go out, hang out, relax and not really have to worry about a whole lot of stuff."