Luke Kuechly wins Lombardi Award

HOUSTON -- Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly wishes his exceptional season would have translated into success for his team.

Kuechly won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top collegiate lineman or linebacker Wednesday night, beating out Alabama linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower and Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin for the award.

Kuechly, who leads the nation with 191 tackles this season, lamented the Eagles' 4-8 finish, but credited his teammates for helping him excel this year.

"We didn't have the best record this season," he said. "It's not how we wanted the season to go, but me winning this is a testament to our whole team as well. It's how I played as well as how the whole team played. We never gave up."

Kuechly was a bright spot for a team that went 3-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The junior has a school- and Atlantic Coast Conference-record 532 career tackles.

"It's a testament to him to be having this kind of recognition with the year that we had," Boston College defensive coordinator Bill McGovern said. "I think people appreciate it and recognize how talented he was and how well he performed in a difficult situation."

Kuechly is the first recipient from Boston College and won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker Sunday.

Kuechly has had 10 or more tackles in 33 of his 37 career games. He had 191 tackles this season and 183 last year, the top two single-season totals in ACC history.

He believes a lot of his success could be credited to one skill.

"I'm pretty instinctive," he said. "I'm not the biggest guy, but I use my instincts well. I feel like I'm very comfortable out there. I don't have to think much when I'm playing, I just like to go out there and have fun."

Upshaw and Hightower, who will lead No. 2 Alabama's defense in the national title game against top-ranked LSU on Jan. 9, feel lucky to have both been finalists for the award.

"It was fun for me to have Courtney with me," Hightower said. "He and I have been like brothers since we got to Alabama. We've been competing against each other all year, so it's only right that we would also compete for this."

Hightower led the team with 81 tackles and had 9½ tackles for losses and three sacks. The junior also had an interception, a blocked field goal and has broken up three passes.

He said playing with Upshaw has made him better.

"During the game he's always like: `If you make a play, I'm going to make two plays,'" Hightower said. "Then I'll decide I have to make three plays. So it helps us out in the long run because we're real good friends, but we're good teammates and we push each other and that's why we're here."

Upshaw has 17 tackles for losses to lead the team and ranks second in the Southeastern Conference. He also leads the team with 8½ sacks, returned an interception for a touchdown against Florida and forced two fumbles.

He said how the team responded after its 9-6 overtime loss to LSU on Nov. 5 was the most memorable part of the season for him.

"After that loss as a team to keep fighting and work our back into the championship talk and then actually be in that game is basically the highlight of the season," Upshaw said.

Martin has been part of an offensive line that has allowed just nine sacks to Heisman Trophy finalist Andrew Luck and helped the Cardinal to an 11-1 record and second straight BCS bowl.

Martin takes pride in how few times Luck has been sacked this season.

"Anytime I see Luck get hit, it hurts me personally," he said. "I take that personally every time. So that's really the No. 1 goal every game is to keep him clean to make sure he can do what he does back there."

The Rotary Club of Houston has presented the award annually since 1970. Voting totals from the award are not released.

Also on Wednesday, Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was given the Rotary Lombardi Humanitarian Award for his charitable work.