BC's Kuechly wanted to be Irish
Nation's leading tackler never received interest from ND
It’s that they could have easily ended up on the same side.
Hawaii’s Manti Te’o, the high school linebacker that everyone wanted in the 2009 recruiting class, decided at the 11th hour to move five time zones away and attend Notre Dame.
Luke Kuechly, a teammate of current ND quarterback-turned-wide receiver Luke Massa at Cincinnati St. Xavier, never had the chance.
“Luke Kuechly would have ended the recruiting process before it ever began if Notre Dame would have offered him,” St. Xavier coach Steve Specht said in a 2010 interview with the South Bend Tribune. “But they didn’t.”
“So he goes to Boston College and leads the nation in tackles as a freshman.”
ND wasn’t the only school to look down its nose at Kuechly, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound junior who, again, leads the nation in tackles - and it’s not even close. Kuechly is averaging 16.8, three more a contest than No. 2 Brian Wagner of Akron.
“I thought he was a good, solid high school player,” said Tom Lemming of Kuechly, “but I can honestly say I didn’t see this kind of potential.”
The homestate Buckeyes didn’t offer either. Michigan State and Illinois were the only two Big Ten schools to get involved enough to extend an offer. And the hometown Cincinnati Bearcats, coached by ND’s Brian Kelly at the time, tried to get in the mix.
“We loved him,” Kelly recalled. “Felt like he was the kind of linebacker that has shown great instincts, loves the game, great character kid. We knew it was going to be an uphill climb.”
The 6-2, 255-pound Te’o, meanwhile, doesn’t have the raw tackle numbers, but has made more plays behind the line of scrimmage. He’s also been battling a chronic ankle injury since early in the season, though Kelly said Tuesday that it’s taken a turn for the better.
“They're similar,” Kelly said of the two linebackers. “I think when you talk about the really good inside linebackers, it's great tackling, (they’re) the leader on their defense. I think Manti and Luke carry a lot of those.
“I think, physically, Manti is a little bit bigger, but maybe Luke is maybe a bit more agile. I don't know. I would think maybe Manti would question that. But I think clearly they're very similar in terms of the intangibles that they bring and both are very, very productive.”
Both players are semifinalists for the four prestigious national awards - Lombardi, Nagurski, Butkus and Lott. And both would be likely first-round draft choices if they decided to truncate their college careers after this season.
“I think Arizona State’s Vontaze Burfict is ahead of both of them right now, but these two are right there, all in the first round” said analyst Scott Wright of NFLDraftCountdown.com.
“They both have strengths and weaknesses. Kuechly is a little more productive, but he’s not as big. Te’o, I think, is going to test a little better. At the end of the day, assuming both were in this draft class, I think Te’o would go earlier.”
Hold the punch lines
Maybe Jonas Gray’s aspirations to be a stand-up comic may have to wait after all. Suddenly, the Notre Dame senior running back has an NFL future.
“I absolutely think there’s a chance he’ll be drafted,” Wright said. “He’s probably more of a late-round guy, but that’s a significant bump from where he was at the beginning of the season.”