He ran all the drills, went through all the workouts. But this time it was different for Luke Kuechly, and it drove him to distraction. The Butkus Award winner and two-time All-American from Boston College couldn’t control his football future - at least not yet.
Kuechly, like the rest of the NFL draft class of 2012, had to wait to find out where he would be going about his business next season. The only certainty was that the 6-foot-3-inch, 242-pound linebacker knew he would be playing somewhere, probably with the notoriety of being a high first-round pick.
Thursday night, it didn’t take Kuechly long to learn where his next stop will be. With the ninth overall pick, the Carolina Panthers chose Kuechly to help boost their sagging defense.
Various mock drafts had Kuechly, who decided to forgo his senior season, being chosen fairly high, with Carolina, Buffalo (No. 10), Kansas City (11), Seattle (12), and Philadelphia (15) the most likely landing spots.
“I’m jacked up,’’ said Kuechly, who was told by the Panthers that he might play any of their three linebacker positions. “I’m so pumped up that they were interested in me and wanted me on their team. It’s an honor.’’
Kuechly said he will fly to Charlotte on Friday, then fly back home to Cincinnati on Saturday, before heading back to North Carolina for rookie minicamp. “I’ve still got a lot of things to do,’’ he said, “but this is great.’’
Kuechly spent part of the winter working out at the IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton, Fla., in preparation for the combine in February, but opted to spend the last few weeks before the draft at home.
Kuechly is the 19th BC player to be selected in the first round, and the fifth in the last five years.
When Kuechly chose to end his college career after leading the nation in tackles the last two seasons, his draft status included questions about his size and speed. His character and instincts were never in question, as one NFC general manager said, “You want him to marry your daughter.’’
Kuechly’s demeanor on the football field is a different matter, as he turns from the boy next door to a heat-seeking tackling machine. What Kuechly had to prove to NFL GMs and personnel directors was that he was big enough, fast enough, and mean enough to become a star - or at least worthy of a first-round pick - in the NFL.
Kuechly said he understood what he had to do to prepare. “The process is about getting a job in the NFL,’’ he said. “Everybody has to do it. It’s a business where you have to go out and perform and make plays and be productive. That’s how it works.’’
The choice by the Panthers drew praise from BC coach Frank Spaziani. “A great choice,’’ he said. “He will be perfect for them. And it was the perfect pick for me as well since it came two minutes before my bedtime.’’
The Panthers believe they’ve picked a player who could help them in several areas.
“He was a guy that we knew, if he was there, he was the option,’’ GM Marty Hurney said. “He’s a smart, instinctive, explosive football player. He’s a sideline-to-sideline tackler. He just has great football intelligence. He’s so smart and athletic, you can use him in a lot of different roles. We picked the best player there.’’
“He’s one of those guys who makes the guys around him better,’’ added Panthers coach Ron Rivera. “He has tremendous versatility. He was a young man I was truly excited about.’’
Kuechly can now begin preparing for minicamp, training camp, and his first pro season. He will also soon have some financial security, with the signing bonus and multimillion-dollar contract that comes with being a high first-round pick.
Although a new rookie salary structure is in place - significantly lowering the value of contracts - Kuechly won’t need to scrounge for pocket money. Earlier this week on WEEI’s “Dennis & Callahan,’’ Kuechly was asked what his first purchase would be after he signed his deal.
“I want to go out and find a nice, comfortable couch,’’ he said.
Kuechly will now be able to afford that couch, and a lot of things around it.