BC linebackers eager for challenge

Frank Spaziani knows he probably is not getting 190-plus tackles from any of his linebackers this season. The Boston College coach is OK with that.

So, too, are the linebackers who will fill the void left by Luke Kuechly, the ACC's single-season (191) and career tackles (532) leader who left early for the NFL draft.

"If you talk to Luke, he'll be the first to say that we're a defense first, not just one guy," Sean Duggan said. "Losing a guy like him is a lot of tackles to make up, but we'll all chip in as a defense to get it done. Evenly as a unit we have to step up."

Kuechly will likely be the first linebacker to hear his name called in New York in less than three weeks. But the Eagles' linebackers are hardly fretting over Kuechly's departure, not after the promise they showed in winning two of their final three games to end an otherwise unfulfilling 2011 season.

The lone loss during that stretch was a two-point squeaker at heavily favored rival Notre Dame.

"I was on a team where losing was unacceptable," said linebacker Steele Divitto, who played for national power Don Bosco (Ramsey, N.J.). "That's the same mindset we're starting to apply here. It's not good enough to just do your job -- you have to go that extra mile. All my life I haven't really lost many football games, maybe two or three prior to BC. I hate to lose, and I think there are a lot of guys that hate losing and will do whatever it takes this offseason and in the season to win all these games.

"It's almost a mentality thing. I played for a great coach in high school and play for a great coach now. Coach Spaz talks about winning all the time: in the weight room, in conditioning, in the film room. We have to apply that mentality to everything."

Divitto is looking to build off a 72-tackle campaign from last season, when he was third on the team. (He added 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception as well.) In place of a bowl trip for last season's 4-8 squad, Divitto flew to Phoenix, where he worked out and studied with draft prospects at Athletes' Performance.

In the shadow of Kuechly last season on the outside, Divitto is now among the most experienced linebackers returning, along with fellow junior Kevin Pierre-Louis, who was hobbled much of the spring but had 74 tackles, six tackles for loss and a fumble recovery last season.

A possible replacement to Kuechly in the middle could be Duggan, who started three games outside last season as a true freshman, recording 39 tackles, three tackles for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery.

"Steele, he's gonna get better. He has a lot of experience now out there, played a lot of football he's going to have to up his production to make up for obviously Luke not being there," Spaziani said. "And Sean, he played a lot in a backup role, started a couple games for us. Now it's a new position for him in the middle, but he's a good football player. And he just needs reps and he needs more time, but we're happy to have him on the football team."

Duggan actually played briefly with Kuechly, the Nagurski and Butkus winner from a year ago, at St. Xavier (Cincinnati) High School.

"When I talked to Luke he said you've just got to relax out there and trust yourself," Duggan said of his conversations with Kuechly this spring. "You can't think too much out there because then you're slow, and at this level you can't afford to be slow against these guys. So trust yourself and the guys around you."