Young BC linebacker quietly among nation's best

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

There has been so much attention this fall -- and deservedly so -- on the fact that Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich isn’t playing, that one of the best freshmen linebackers in the country who is following in Herzlich’s footsteps has gone virtually unnoticed by everyone except his own teammates and the offenses he faces.

BC true freshman Luke Kuechly enters Saturday’s game at Virginia tied for No. 4 in the nation with 6.44 solo tackles per game. He is tied for 13th in the country in total tackles with 10.44 per game. And he leads the Eagles with 94 tackles. Before the bye week, Kuechly returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown against Central Michigan.

“Luke is a totally different animal,” said BC quarterback Dave Shinskie, following the Eagles’ 31-10 win over Central Michigan. “I’ve never seen anyone play linebacker like he can.”

Before you butcher his last name, here’s one way to remember it: Just call him “Kuech the freak.”

“He has done a tremendous job as an 18-year-old kid,” senior linebacker Mike McLaughlin said. “I’ve told a ton of people that to come in right away and play that position, basically the quarterback of the defense, at the level he was playing at, is something I’ve never seen. And he keeps getting better. It really is amazing, because playing the linebacker position at that young an age, first-hand I can tell you it’s very difficult to do. He’s just blown the expectations out of everything.”

After an injury sidelined sophomore Will Thompson, Kuechly was named the starting middle linebacker for the first three games. Injuries had limited the coaching staff's options, and it was necessary to depend upon a true freshman. Now, Kuechly’s playing time has been earned. He spends extra time almost every night after dinner and before homework watching film with safety Wes Davis, and it’s paid off. Kuechly has started the past five games at weakside linebacker.

“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t really know what exactly was going on,” Kuechly said. “I still really don’t have everything down pat, but one of the things that really helped me throughout each week is the coaches put the whole defense in a position to do well, and additionally, a lot of the upperclassmen have really extended their arms out to help me along the way, show me how to do different things. They know what to expect, and what they’ve told me has helped a lot.”

Kuechly led the team with 12 tackles and was an integral part of a goal-line stand in the second quarter against Florida State. With a first-and-goal at the one, FSU’s Lonnie Pryor rushed three times and Kuechly was in on every tackle.

Kuechly added 10 more tackles at Virginia Tech and has recorded a career-high 14 tackles against NC State and at Notre Dame. Those 14 tackles are the most for a true freshman in a game since Herzlich made 14 against Buffalo on Oct. 28, 2006.

Don’t compare Kuechly to Herzlich, though -- not yet.

“The comparison, it’s so far off,” Kuechly said. “I don’t think there’s any way you could compare us right now. He’s accomplished so much more than I have. He’s so much more knowledgeable, he’s been around longer. He’s done so much more already, I don’t think you can compare us two right now because everything he’s accomplished is so much greater than what I’ve really done.”

What Kuechly has done is lead the team in tackles in eight of nine games this year.

Kuechly, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, is the first true freshman in school history to lead the team in tackles and he is just seven shy from setting the record for most tackles by a true freshman. Stephen Boyd recorded 100 tackles in 1991.

The good news for BC fans? Kuechly is only going to get better.

“Physically, he has a long way to go,” said coach Frank Spaziani. “He’s just a young pup, a true freshman. But he has a knack, he really does. I say it every week; he does things that you can’t coach. He makes a lot of mistakes a lot of people don’t see, but he does make a lot of plays and he’s able to overcome his inexperience by his aptitude for the game.”