BC's Kuechly packs a wallop

The young Midwestern kid could pass for any bookish Boston College freshman.

But what sets Luke Kuechly apart from other students is his ability to terrorize quarterbacks. Just 18 and less than three months into his freshman year, Kuechly is already one of the best linebackers in the country.

"We used to call him the Quiet Assassin," said Steve Specht, Kuechly's high school coach at St. Xavier in Cincinnati. "He is a pretty special kid."

Special is right.

Through the first nine games of the season, Kuechly has racked up an astounding 94 total tackles -- good for sixth in the nation, and more than twice as many as BC's second-leading tackler, senior safety Marcellus Bowman, who has 43.

In Saturday's win over Central Michigan, Kuechly made 11 tackles and scored the first touchdown of his career on a 28-yard interception return, earning him ACC defensive player of the week honors.

And Kuechly has saved some of his finest performances for BC's conference opponents.

He notched nine tackles against Wake Forest, 14 against North Carolina State and 12 against Florida State. That game hinged on a second-quarter goal-line stand in which BC stuffed running back Lonnie Pryor on three consecutive rushing attempts.

Kuechly was in on every tackle.

The Eagles went on to win 28-21, and after the game, BC captain and fellow linebacker Mike McLaughlin dubbed his young teammate the "Boy Wonder."

Quarterback Dave Shinskie is just glad the football phenom is on his side.

"Luke is a totally different animal," Shinskie said. "I never saw anyone play linebacker like he can. Just to watch him fly around, it seems like nobody blocks him. I don't get it. It seems like he's in on every tackle."

Yet Kuechly has remained humble. Asked how he has managed to contribute to such a degree as a true freshman, Kuechly deferred to his teammates.

"I think for the most part I've had a lot of help from the older guys on the team," he said. "They've really watched out for me."

It seems Kuechly inherited his humility from his parents.

Eileen Kuechly said that while she and her husband, Tom, have been very excited about their son's play this season, it's more important that the Eagles succeed.

"We just want him to do well out there for the team," she said.

The apple certainly hasn't fallen far from the tree.

Luke Kuechly is by nature unassuming and down-to-earth, and carries an aura of cautious reserve. The BC media guide lists Kuechly at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, but he seems much smaller. He speaks softly, and is loathe to talk about his gridiron accomplishments. He'd much rather discuss his favorite non-football activity: fly-fishing for trout -- a passion he developed growing up in tiny Evendale, Ohio.

"I really enjoy fishing," he said. "It's one of those things you have to get in your element for."

Kuechly also is in his element in the classroom.

"Academics are very important," he said. "Doing well in classes is one of the main reasons you're here."

Kuechly has always been a good student. He graduated from St. Xavier with a 3.8 grade-point average and is enrolled at BC's Carroll School of Management. He is driven to learn by the same steely determination that fuels him on the football field.

"He always wants to get better," Specht said. "He's that way with football, he's that way with school, he's that way with whatever he's involved with in life."

Kuechly is also a devoted student of the game.

"I think Luke is probably the most meticulous player I've ever coached from a film standpoint," Specht said. "He's very football smart."

But only when Kuechly began to mature physically did he transform into the football wrecking ball he is today.

"He just started growing into his big, long body and that's when he jumped off the page at us," Specht said. "We saw how athletic he was, how he moved in space. That's when we realized he was going to be a pretty special player."

Kuechly soon started getting recruited by colleges across the country. He was an attractive applicant -- a fearsome linebacker with a stellar GPA. Specht said he spent the next year telling anyone who would listen that Kuechly was as good a high school football player as he'd seen in a long, long time.

Fortunately for the Boston College football program, its coaches were paying attention.

Kuechly chose BC over Stanford, Duke and Virginia.

"He's a coach's dream," BC head coach Frank Spaziani said after Saturday's win over Central Michigan. "The guy works hard, plays hard. He loves football. He wants to get better. And he has instincts. He does a lot of good things."

Still, Spaziani is quick to remind everyone that his emerging star remains a work-in-progress.

"He'll be the first to admit, he's got a long, long way to go before we anoint him as anything."

Kuechly readily agrees that there are "tons of things" he needs to work on, like developing a better knowledge of the Eagles' defense so that he can play faster and with more awareness.

But no one can deny that something special is happening at the Heights.

"It's like Luke has turned on an extra switch," his mother said.

Specht, for one, isn't worried that the praise will go to Kuechly's head.

"Luke was never a kid who sought out the spotlight. He never wanted his picture plastered all over the paper," Specht said. "All Luke wants is for the team to be successful. And to know that he played a part in its success, well, that's good enough for him."

But the humble Boy Wonder from Ohio is already making headlines in Boston, and Specht doesn't expect that to stop anytime soon.

"He's going to be a great one up there," the coach said. "That's just the way he is."