Sports

Almost a Blue Devil, Panthers’ Luke Kuechly ready to help team return to Super Bowl

Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, left, battles New Orleans Saints tackle Zach Strief, right, during third quarter action at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte during a 2016 game.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, left, battles New Orleans Saints tackle Zach Strief, right, during third quarter action at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte during a 2016 game. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Luke Kuechly may have played his college football at Boston College, but the Carolina Panthers linebacker almost ended up at Duke for three seasons.

“I took a visit down to Duke, and I loved it,” Kuechly said. “Coach (David) Cutcliffe and those guys do a great job at that school.”

Kuechly, who was in town promoting Mizzen+Main performance menswear at Nordstorm at The Streets at Southpoint mall, said that the determining factor for him was, “knowing guys at Boston College who I had played in high school with.”

The three-time All-American amassed 532 tackles in his three years at Boston College before being drafted ninth overall by the Panthers in 2012.

Kuechly said that he remains in contact with Cutcliffe, having last seen him at the Belk Bowl, which is held at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, last year.

“He’s a good guy and a great coach,” Kuechly said. “He’s doing great things at Duke.”

Cutcliffe became Duke’s head coach in December 2007, taking over a team that had won four games in four seasons. He won four games in his first season at the helm, took home AFCA Coach of the Year honors in 2013, and led Duke to its first bowl victory since 1961 with a 2015 Pinstripe Bowl win over Indiana.

Kuechly is now focused on helping the Panthers bounce back after a 6-10 year.

“We got a good plan, we’re getting some players back in, and we got guys who are healthy and ready to go,” he said.

Health was an issue for Kuechly and other members of the Panthers last season and heading into the offseason. The star linebacker missed the final three games of the season with a concussion while franchise quarterback Cam Newton missed offseason OTAs due to shoulder surgery.

Kuechly didn’t have a timeline for Newton’s recovery but sounded hopeful that he’ll be ready to go at the start of training camp, which opens at the end of July in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

To assist in helping the team get back to the Super Bowl, Carolina brought back defensive anchor Julius Peppers and nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn. Kuechly is excited about the re-additions to the defense but is perhaps more looking forward to the speed added on the offense.

The Panthers drafted hybrid running back Christian McCaffrey and slot receiver Curtis Samuel to help speed up and spread out an offense that has been run-heavy over the years. And while Kuechly is always up for a challenge, he may pass off coverage duties to his fellow linebackers when it comes to covering McCaffrey in practice.

“He’s going to be a nightmare for us. It’ll be a good challenge for us. We’ll put Thomas (Davis) and Shaq (Thompson) on him and see what they can do,” he said with a laugh.

And while Kuechly will be busy leading the Panthers defense, he hopes to make it back to Durham to hang out with the Cameron Crazies.

“I’ve been a longtime Duke fan,” Kuechly said. “We’ll see if the schedule permits (coming to a game).”

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