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Sept. 9, 2011
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) - If you want to explore the anatomy of making a tackle, why not ask the best - Luke Kuechly of Boston College.
After all, in 2010 he led the nation with 183 tackles, including 110 solo stops.
Kuechly will tell you that to make a tackle it's important to keep your feet under you and stay low.
OK, got that. What else?
"At this level there's no technique," he said. "You've just got to get in there and get them down. These running backs (in the ACC) are so difficult to get ahold of; you've got to get ahold of them first before you take them down.
"They're shifty, they're fast, they're strong, they have good vision. You've got to get ahold of them however you can and then it's however you can get them down - pull them down, trip them up, do whatever you can to tackle them."
For Kuechly, then, determination is as much a part of the process as anything else. And there's another factor he didn't mention.
"Instincts, he has tremendous instincts," said Eagles coach Frank Spaziani. "We gave him this instruction - `that guy has the ball and you want it.' I don't think I can put my finger on how he does it."
The junior linebacker from Cincinnati has been a tackling machine since he pulled on a BC uniform. In 2009, as a true freshman, he stepped into the spot that opened when Mark Herzlich, an outstanding inside linebacker and the ACC defensive player of the year in 2008, missed the season while fighting cancer. Kuechly recorded 158 tackles.
Herzlich returned last season and shifted to an outside spot, leaving Kuechly inside.
"During games is when I saw him the most," Kuechly said of the 2009 season. "He was very emotional, had a ton of energy, was very passionate about the game. Seeing him really got me going. Mark's not even playing and he's got this much passion.
"Last year (when we played together), you knew Mark was going to do his job and do whatever he could to help the team win."
That's an important element of football to Kuechly. He amasses impressive statistics and if he leads the country in tackles again, fine. But he is most interested in the final score.
"The most important thing to me is winning games," he said. "That's all I care about. I'm not an individual guy; I play games to win. If you lose sight of that, then you're not a team player and you're not doing what you can to help your team out."
For Kuechly, the way to achieve that is through work ethic, whether it's in the off -season, developing practice habits or playing hard during a game. Although he has a string of 23 straight games with at least 10 tackles, he doesn't begin each one thinking he has to make a certain amount of tackles. Rather, he remains relentless on every play.
"On each play I tell myself `you've got to get to the ball this play, you've got to get to the ball this play,'" he said. "I think football is fun when you're making plays."
Spaziani jokes that what the coaches want Kuechly to do is "stop the deep passes, too, and then I'll think he's really something."
Actually, he has five career interceptions, including one last week that set up a BC touchdown in the season-opening 24-17 loss to Northwestern. He was also in on 19 tackles. It was the kind of performance that the coaches have come to expect without taking it for granted.
"Athletic ability and dependability are big things and a lot of times dependability is more important," Spaziani said. "And you can depend on him to show up and do what Luke does."
The coach calls Kuechly "an eraser" who makes plays he hasn't seen before. And he does it by making a transformation that no one quite understands when it's time to play football.
"He's like Clark Kent and Superman," Spaziani said. "He's a great kid. When I talk about his athletic talents, he's that much better as a person and a citizen. And when he puts that helmet on, his eyes get red, he gets fury, I don't know what happens to him.
"He takes on a different persona in there. You can feel his demeanor. You can see he's a football player now; he's not going to chemistry class or walking around campus. He's in that mode."
Kuechly's concentration now is on Central Florida, which BC will play on the road Saturday. The Knights opened with a 62-0 thrashing of Charleston Southern.
The Eagles have a lot to overcome...Running back Montel Harris, who missed the Eagles' opener with a knee injury, is practicing, but his status remains day-to-day. And top receiver Ifeanyi Momah is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
"I think we'll be as good as we let ourselves be," Kuechly said. "We can't shoot ourselves in the foot. We're a talented team; we have to go out and play hard, practice hard, don't take plays off. And you've got to do what the coaches tell you; you've got to be coachable.
"Anything we do this year will revolve around us just working, working, working. That's how you win games - just work."
Rest assured Kuechly will be doing his part on that front.
HASS AROUND THE ACC: Duke will host sixth-ranked Stanford on Saturday and Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe said QB Andrew Luck, considered the early Heisman Trophy favorite, is the real deal. "I love his poise, his ability to keep his eyes downfield even when he's scrambling," Cutcliffe said. "He is in control."... North Carolina coach Everett Withers liked the way the offense played around QB Bryn Renner, who hit 22 of 23 passes. "I think Bryn had an exceptional game and played really well," Withers said, "but he played within the system."...Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro, whom coach Dabo Swinney calls "Cat Man," connected on field goals of 46, 46 and 45 yards against Troy. Swinney said Chandler, 14-for-22 last season, "is growing up and maturing before our eyes." ... Virginia Tech's David Wilson gained 162 yards and scored three TDs against Appalachian. Coach Frank Beamer said Wilson "is fast and he's strong and he runs with a lot of energy." ... Florida State's Greg Dent caught a 50-yard TD pass against Louisiana-Monroe. He played special teams as a freshman and still does as a sophomore. "He's a physical guy and he has that defensive mentality," said coach Jimbo Fisher ... Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said QB Tanner Price, who hurt his knee against Syracuse, is full speed and ready to go against NC State this week.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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