Boston College's Luke Kuechly and Duke's Becca Ward Receive League-Wide Athlete of the Year Honors.

July 31, 2012

GREENSBORO, N.C. (ACSMA) -- Boston College football player Luke Kuechly, the ninth overall pick of this spring's NFL Draft, and Becca Ward, a three-time All-American in fencing at Duke, have earned the top honors bestowed upon ACC athletes for 2011-12 in voting by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association (ACSMA).

Kuechly, who established several NCAA tackling records over his three-year career, is the winner of the 59th Anthony J. McKevlin Award as the ACC's premier male athlete. He becomes the first recipient cited exclusively for his work as a defensive player in football.

Ward claimed the 23rd Mary Garber Award as the conference's finest female athlete. Ward is the first winner to earn her acclaim entirely for achievement in a sport outside of ACC championship certification and administration.

The awards are given in memory of distinguished journalists from the region. McKevlin was a sports editor in Raleigh, N.C., and Garber, of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, was a pioneer as one of the first female sports journalists in the country.

Kuechly received 13 votes from the 31-member electorate. Florida State baseball player James Ramsey, named on seven ballots, finished second.

Kuechly is one of the most decorated defenders in ACC history. In his third and final season on The Heights in 2011, the linebacker from Cincinnati, Ohio established three NCAA records: total tackles per game over a career (14); total tackles per game in a season (15.92); and assisted tackles per game over a career (6.14). He also stands second in total tackles in a career (532) and in a season (191 in 2011) and in solo stops per game over a career (7.87).

The 6-foot-3, 242-pound linebacker adds to a trophy case that includes four individual honors from 2011: the Bronco Nagurski and Lott IMPACT Trophies, given to college football's top defensive player; the Dick Butkus Award as the best linebacker; and the Lombardi Award for the premier lineman or inside linebacker.

The Eagles finished 4-8 overall and 3-5 in the ACC this past fall, and Kuechly's incessant production and sideline-to-sideline harassment of opposing ball-carriers helped BC finish strong. After a 1-6 start to the campaign, the Eagles won three of their final five games, earning ACC victories over NC State and at Maryland and Miami.

Kuechly is the first Boston College athlete to win the McKevlin or Garber Award. The Eagles began ACC competition in 2005-06. The Carolina Panthers made Kuechly the first linebacker taken in the 2012 draft.

Kuechly's selection for the McKevlin is the 15th by a football player and the first since NC State quarterback Philip Rivers' victory in 2004.

Kuechly is the fifth football defender with his name on the McKevlin plaque, but he is the first to build a resume entirely around that side of the ball and in that sport. Specifically:

* Georgia Tech's Riccardo Ingram (1987) was a stellar safety but an even better prospect in baseball, in which he became a fourth-round draftee in 1987 and enjoyed brief tenures with the Detroit Tigers in 1994 and the Minnesota Twins a year later.

* In the era of limited manpower and two-way play across college football, South Carolina's Bobby Bryant (1967) was an accomplished defensive back who helped the Minnesota Vikings to three Super Bowls; he also earned at least comparable fame in college as a punt-returner and as a twice-drafted baseball pitcher.

* Duke's Mike McGee (1960) was an interior lineman on both sides of the ball.

* NC State's Dick Christy (1958) was a flanker and defensive back.

Ward, a senior from Portland, Ore., won a plurality from the 30-member Garber voting panel, getting the nod from 10 electors. Maryland field hockey player Megan Frazer was second with five votes and two athletes, Wake Forest soccer player Katie Stengel and Georgia Tech softball player Kelsi Weseman, garnered four votes each.

Ward made her own mark in a sport that only 33 schools across all NCAA Divisions sponsor for men and women. ACC members Boston College, Duke and North Carolina are among that group.

Like every standard Division I conference except the Ivy League, the ACC does not conduct a championship event in fencing because it does not have enough participation league-wide.

So the Blue Devils go after national awards, and the NCAA runs its fencing championship as a coed event encompassing all three levels of association membership. There is no inter-gender competition, but all fencers' results count for an institution's one team.

Ward became only the fourth woman in the 23-year history of the NCAA championships to win three national titles when she claimed the 15-12 triumph over Penn State's Monica Aksamit in the Women's Saber final. The performance helped the Blue Devils to a ninth-place finish in the 25-team event

In the process, the Blue Devils earned their third straight Top-10 finish. Duke is the only program in the Southeast to crack the Top 10 more than once.

Ward is actually the second Garber winner honored for her achievement in a sport without an ACC championship. Maryland's Kelly Amonte, the 1996 honoree, was a standout lacrosse player one year before that sport earned conference title recognition. Amonte's Garber resume included excellence in a second pursuit, soccer, in which she was an All-American in the fall of 1995.