FOXBORO - Boston College sends a lot of offensive linemen to the NFL, and the occasional quarterback or two. The stud linebackers usually come from somewhere else.
But along comes Luke Kuechly, middle linebacker of the Carolina Panthers, whose talents almost should have the pedigree of a school like Penn State (often called "Linebacker U.") instead of the home of burly linemen.
Kuechly has 75 tackles this season (after leading the NFL in tackles as a rookie) and three interceptions as well as five pass defenses. With great coverage skills as well as a nose for the ball, he's likely to be the No. 1 choice of the Panthers to counter the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski in Monday night's game at Bank of America Stadium, (8:40 p.m.; Ch, 5, ESPN).
"Oh, that'll be great," Kuechly said in a conference call to the New England media on Thursday. "He's one of those tight ends that is a playmaker. He's big, he's strong, he can catch the catches, and this is why you love playing football, playing against good players in big games. I'll be excited. I'm not quite sure how the matchup is going to work yet, but I'm sure at some point I'll be in the same vicinity."
The Panthers are a surprising 6-3, winners of five straight, and one of the big reasons is their impressive defense. As well as it has played over the past five weeks, Kuechly said nothing is being taken for granted.
"I think we look at each game, and we look at what we did well and what we didn't do so well, and I think in order to keep moving forward in the direction that we want to, we've got to keep doing the positive things," he said. "And all the things that we didn't do so well we have to get them corrected, because when you play good teams, especially a team like the Patriots, they're going to do their best to find out what you're not as good at."
In last week's 10-9 win at San Francisco, Kuechly had a game-high 11 tackles. Preparation is the key, he said.
"One thing I try to do is I try to get well prepared for the game, whether it's the coaches' game plan or watching film," he said. "I think if you can take advantage of that and have an idea of what a team is going to do, the mental side and the instincts kind of kick in and pair together, and you can be pretty successful doing that.
"So I think I do a good job of trying my best to prepare for games, and then just the aspect of just playing football, going out there and the phrase 'play ball' just kind of takes over," he said.
Good as he's been since he entered the league last year, Kuechly said that certainly wasn't the case at the start.
"There were a bunch of adjustments," he said. "I think if the season would have started on day one of OTAs, I would have been all over the place. I didn't really know what was going on right away, but it was a process.
"Luckily, I had the OTAs, minicamp, and then camp, and then the preseason to kind of get adjusted," he added.
"But I think the biggest thing for me was I had some older veteran guys around me that first year. James Anderson, Thomas Davis, Jon Beason and Jordan Senn were a couple guys that really took me under their wing and showed me kind of how things were done."
He's not that far removed from his BC days, and while the pundits are touting him as the next big star linebacker in the NFL, lessons from his days on the Heights are still present in Kuechly's mind and still guiding him.
"There was a point in our season at BC, I think it was my sophomore year, I don't know what we were, 2-5, 1-5, and we ended up going to a bowl game," he said. "It was one of those things that's, 'Never give up, because you never know what the season holds for you.' I think that's something moving forward that you've always got to hold on to, is you've got to play each play, if it's a play or if it's a game or if it's a season.
"Everything's got to be important, everything's got to matter, because you never know where it's going to put you," he said.