Kuechly’s physical appearance backs the Man of Steel comparison. Broad-jawed, dark-haired and perceptibly Catholic, Kuechly has the build of Superman.
By all accounts, Kuechly is a super guy. He has a reputation for respect, hard work and infallible instincts. During eight seasons in Carolina, the linebacker routinely blew up the NFC South, from the Atlanta Falcons to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During his peak 2015 campaign, Kuechly blew up everyone: the Packers, Patriots, Titans, Giants and anyone else who stood in Carolina’s way. Well, almost anyone.
The 2015 Panthers faded quicker than expected. The same is true for Kuechly’s soon-to-be Hall of Fame playing career. Who is this football hero of epic proportions, and where is he now?
Who is Luke Kuechly?
Luke August Kuechly was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Tom and Eileen Kuechly. The future All-Pro is the middle child of three brothers.
His father, Tom Kuechly, claims Luke was excessively competitive with his brothers. Some things never change.
He played linebacker and safety at St. Xavier High School. Kuechly had a defining role in St. Xavier’s undefeated 2007 season and state title. Kuechly graduated as a three-star recruit and chose to play for the Boston College Eagles over Cincinnati and Duke University.
During his three-year tenure on the BC football team, Kuechly started all but one game at middle linebacker. He became one of the most decorated defenders in college football history. Kuechly was named first-team consensus All-American twice and ACC Defensive Player of the year once. Then, he won all of the individual honors for defenders in 2011: the Bronco Nagurski Award, Dick Butkus Award, Vince Lombardi Award and Ronnie Lott Trophy.
Kuechly’s time under head coach Frank Spaziani was individually productive; his team was less so. After losing two bowl games during his first two years, the Eagles didn’t make the postseason during Kuechly’s final year.
His trophy case overflowing, Kuechly declared for the 2012 NFL Draft. He graduated one NCAA solo tackle short of 300.
Luke Kuechly NFL Career
The Charlotte, North Carolina-based Carolina Panthers selected Luke Kuechly with their first-round pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. Kuechly was the first linebacker off the board and the second smart pick in a row by the Carolina Panthers. Just the year before, in 2011, they drafted Cam Newton.
With young talent on all sides of the ball, the Panthers looked like the team of the future. While Cam tossed and ran touchdowns, Kuechly crushed running backs and snagged interceptions. Kuechly won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. The middle linebacker made All-Pro and Pro Bowl squads for the second year in a row in 2014. But the Panthers stayed shallow in the playoffs. Again, they lost in the first round (at the talons of the Seattle Seahawks) after soundly defeating the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Wild Card.
Kuechly posted his third All-Pro season in a row in 2015, and the Panthers finally responded accordingly. They went all the way, grounding the Cardinals and the Seahawks to reach Super Bowl 50.
Carolina’s opponent, the Denver Broncos, proved too much for Ron Rivera, Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton. The Denver Orange crushed the Cats in February of 2016. Everyone was sure the Panthers would return to Super Bowl glory. But they were wrong.
Kuechly continued to play at a five-time All-Pro team level from 2016-2019. The Panthers couldn’t keep up, despite drafting the speedy Christian McCaffrey. Three of those four seasons were sub-.500, and their single winning season ended in the Wild Card round.
Still, Kuechly continued to perform, becoming a seven-time Pro Bowler in 2019. Everyone was sure Kuechly would return for an eighth. But they were wrong.
Luke Kuechly Now
Former Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly is still just 30 years old.
In January 2020, Panthers LB Luke Kuechly abruptly announced his retirement from playing professional football. He was 28 years old. The social media announcement shocked everyone, most notably Panthers fans. They had already lost Cam Newton in the same offseason (not to mention a change in the coaching staff). Panther fans thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse when Kuechly retired in January. But they were wrong.
Kuechly gave few specifics for his motives. He vaguely referred to the choice to retire as opposed to a medically forced retirement. He insisted his decision had nothing to do with new head coach Matt Rhule. Kuechly is aware of the dangers of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He suffered three known concussions in the NFL. A 2016 hit against the New Orleans Saints, in particular, left Kuechly in tears.
The dangers of CTE are now common knowledge. Side effects like mood swings, violent ideations and memory loss are experienced by former pros like Jim McMahon today. CTE is connected to several high-profile suicides and murders, from Junior Seau to Aaron Hernandez to Phillip Adams. The dangers of American football are better known to today’s athletes than any generation before. They’re responding accordingly. Kuechly is just one example of a growing trend of NFL players choosing health and sustainability over football’s fleeting glory.
Kuechly retired from the field but remained in pursuit of Carolina glory. He immediately joined the Panthers as a pro scout. Scouting responsibilities include watching film and learning opponents’ offensive quirks. Though Kuechly was uniquely qualified for the role, he retired from the Panthers’ front office before Panthers minicamp 2021. After decades of organized football every weekend, Kuechly says he’s finally ready to enjoy family time on the weekend with his wife, children, siblings and parents.
Panthers fans may want him to play again, but I doubt that will ever happen. Kuechly has a good head on his shoulders; he intends to keep it that way. Superman may have heat vision, but Luke Kuechly has power even rarer: foresight.