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Panthers, Broncos feature key players and coaches with conference ties
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Atlantic Coast Conference football alumni will be among those most closely watched as the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos take the field for Super Bowl 50.
The spotlight figures to shine especially bright on Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. The former Boston College All-American’s reputation as the game’s current top player at his position will be put to the test as he matches wits with Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.
Manning, whose nearly two decades as one of the game’s most cerebral players is well-documented, is expected to be ultimately prepared when he takes the field in Santa Clara on Sunday evening. Kuechly has worked hard over the past week to match Manning at his own game – but that really isn’t out of the norm for the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker, who’s already a veteran of the game at the age of 24.
“If you can study and be prepared for what teams are trying to do to you in given situations like first-and-10, or second-and-short, or their tendencies and formation-based runs, it helps,” Kuechly said. “There is a lot of studying that goes into the week where I have seen this look in practice and on tape, so I will see this look in the game. So by the time the game rolls around, hopefully you have seen that look a couple times and you can make that first step quicker and maybe allow you to get to the ball faster.”
Kuechly, who returned interceptions for touchdowns ion both of the Panthers’ NFC playoff wins over Seattle and Arizona, is one 11 active players from current ACC schools slated to suit up in Santa Clara. He is one of three set to start for the Panthers. Former Miami tight end Greg Olsen is the team’s leading receiver and a Pro Bowl selection each of the past two seasons. The placekicking duties are handled by Florida State alum Graham Gano, now in his seventh NFL season.
Three ACC alumni have also been key reserves for the Panthers, with veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (NC State) helping fill the void left by a preseason injury to former Florida State standout Kelvin Benjamin that many feared would wreck Carolina’s season. Safety Tre Bostian (North Carolina) and cornerback Lou Young (Georgia Tech) provide depth in the secondary, with Bostian coming up with an interception in the NFC Championship Game win over Arizona.
Young joins Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and defensive end Vance Walker to give Georgia Tech three active Super Bowl alums – tops among ACC schools. The Broncos’ ACC contingent also includes starting defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (North Carolina), second-team running back Juwan Thompson (Duke) and second-team safety Josh Bush (Wake Forest).
This year marks the fourth consecutive season with at least 1,300 yards receiving for Thomas, another three-time Pro Bowler whose status as one of the game’s elite receivers was cemented with the arrival of Manning in Denver prior to the 2012 season.
Thomas was one of the few bright spots in Denver’s most recent previous Super Bowl appearance two years ago, hauling in 13 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. But the Broncos came out on the short end of a 43-8 loss to Seattle, and Thomas would like nothing better than to make amends this year.
And, just to be clear: Thomas defines “amends” as the Broncos coming out ahead – whether he puts up gaudy offensive numbers or not.
“If it doesn’t go that way and we get the win, then I wouldn’t care,” Thomas said.
Thomas and the Broncos will be underdogs when they take the field against the Panthers, but he notes that most also wrote Denver off prior to its AFC Championship Game victory over the defending world champion Patriots.
“We’re used to it now,” Thomas said. “I think the past two weeks we’ve been underdogs and we stepped up to the plate and we were able to come out with the win. We don’t really care what the papers or whatever they say about being underdogs. We’re going to go out and do our jobs.”
While Thomas tries to help the Broncos put points on the board, Williams, Walker and Bush must slow a Carolina offense that can be explosive if quarterback Cam Newton is allowed to hit full stride. But Williams believes Denver’s highly-touted defense is set for the challenge.
“I think we’ve been through the grind all year, we’ve been battle-tested all year and we’ve been in a lot of close games, and we’ve been able to pull it out in all different ways,” Williams noted. “We’ve been able to win on offense, we’ve been able to win on defense and we’ve been able to win on special teams. That’s what makes us a complete game and we’ve got one more game to go. We’re just looking forward to this last game that we’ve got and just trying to come out victorious.”
ACC Super Bowl Ties
Denver Players (6; 5 active)
Josh Bush, S, Wake Forest
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech (Starter)
Juwan Thompson, RB, Duke
Vance Walker, DE, Georgia Tech
Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina (Starter)
Kenny Anunike, DE, Duke (IR)
Reggie Herring, Linebackers – 8 years at Clemson as Linebackers Coach (1994-96) and Defensive Coordinator (1997-2001); 1 year as Defensive Coordinator at NC State (2004).
Dennis Love, Assistant Strength and Conditioning – 4 years at Clemson as Director of Olympic Sports Strength and Conditioning
Brian Pariani, Tight Ends – 1 year as Offensive Coordinator at Syracuse (2005)
Eric Studesville, Running Backs – Two years as video assistant at North Carolina (1992-93)
Carolina Players (11; 6 active)
Tre Boston, S, North Carolina
Jerricho Cotchery, WR, NC State
Graham Gano, PK, Florida State (starter)
Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College (starter)
Greg Olsen, TE, Miami (starter)
Lou Young, CB, Georgia Tech
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State (IR)
Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech (IR)
Chas Alecxih, DT, Pitt (PS)
Ras-I Dowling, S, Virginia (PS)
Eric Crume, DT, Syracuse (R-F)
Jason Benguche, Assistant Strength & Conditioning – 5 years at Georgia Tech (2008-2012), the final three as director of player development for football; the first two as assistant strength and conditioning for football, swimming and diving, and men’s tennis ; 2 years (2006-07) as graduate assistant for strength and conditioning at Florida State
Ken Dorsey, Quarterbacks – A standout QB at Miami (1999-2002), he led UM to the 2001 National Championship and is the winningest QB in school history (38-2 as a starter). Two-time Heisman finalist (2001, 2002) and winner of the Maxwell Award in 2001
Joe Kenn, Strength & Conditioning – Played guard at Wake Forest (1987-88) and served as assistant strength coach in 1991. Served two years (2008-2009) at Louisville as director of athlete development
John Matsko, Offensive Line – Spent seven seasons as Offensive Coordinator and Offensive Line coach at North Carolina (1978-84)
Ricky Proehl, Wide Receivers – Standout WR at Wake Forest from 1986 through 1989. Still holds Wake’s career record for receiving yards (2,949 and TD catches (25).
Super Bowl MVPs with ACC Connections
There are six former Super Bowl MVPs who played at a current ACC school:
Year MVP, Teams, Score (Super Bowl)
1974—Larry Csonka (Syracuse), Miami Dolphins over Minnesota Vikings, 24-7 (Super Bowl VIII)
1977—Fred Biletnikoff (Florida State), Oakland Raiders over Minnesota Vikings, 32-14 (Super Bowl XI)
1991—Ottis Anderson (Miami), New York Giants over Buffalo Bills, 20-19 (Super Bowl XXV)
2001—Ray Lewis (Miami), Baltimore Ravens over New York Giants, 34-7 (Super Bowl XXXV)
2003—Dexter Jackson (Florida State), Tampa Bay Buccaneers over Oakland Raiders. 48-21 (Super Bowl XXXVII)
2005—Deion Branch (Louisville), New England Patriots over Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21 (Super Bowl XXXIX)