FOOTBALL: Tackling A Promise In The Classroom
Luke Kuechly Is Back In Chestnut Hill Finishing His Degree
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 22:01
On the day he was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year by Pro Football Weekly and the Pro Football Writers’ Association, Luke Kuechly was on the phone with the Boston College registrar’s office.
He had a promise to fulfill.
It was one that Kuechly had made multiple times since he left BC a year before to begin his career as an NFL linebacker.
The first time he made the promise was on Jan. 6, 2012, the day he declared for the NFL Draft. Kuechly promised his parents, and shook on it, that he would return to BC to finish his degree.
Three months later, on the night that Luke Kuechly was drafted ninth overall by the Carolina Panthers, he made the same promise to BC’s director of football operations, Barry Gallup.
“I’ll be back next semester,” he told Gallup at the Kuechly household in Ohio.
16 NFL games and a league-leading 164 tackles later, Kuechly has returned to Chestnut Hill to fulfill the promise he made to his parents and Gallup, to finish what he started.
“It’s important,” Kuechly said. “When you start something, you have to finish it. It was important to my parents to get the degree and it’s one of those things where [my mom] said, ‘That’s fine, you just have to eventually go back and finish.’ I’m trying to get it done early.”
It’s a promise that many athletes make upon leaving college early to turn pro, but few follow through. For Kuechly, though, returning to school to get his degree was never a question. He knew all along he was going to come back.
“I knew I needed to come back, I just didn’t know when I was going to do it,” Kuechly said. “Talking with some of my friends, I thought this would be a good opportunity to do it because all those guys are still here and it would make going to class a lot easier if all my friends are still here.”
Since he left BC, Kuechly continued to keep in touch with Warren Zola, an assistant dean in the Carroll Graduate School of Management (CSOM). Zola doubles as the chair of BC’s Professional Sports Counseling Panel, where he worked with Kuechly as a junior when he decided to enter the NFL Draft.
Throughout the season, Kuechly and Zola talked every few weeks about everything, from football to academics. Zola had made a promise of his own, to Kuechly’s parents, that he would do everything he could to get Kuechly to return to BC during the spring semester to take more classes for his degree. He didn’t have to do much convincing since Kuechly, too, had promises to keep.
Kuechly had also been in touch with Richard Keeley, the undergraduate associate dean in CSOM. Even before he had made his decision to go pro, Kuechly sat down with Keeley to talk about his future academically. Keeley laid out different options for how Kuechly could finish his degree, depending on various scenarios.
“He was always pretty proactive about it,” Keeley said. “You know it’s important to him too because he doesn’t leave bases uncovered. There are so many people that have those intentions, but it can be very difficult to do it, given the fact that there are so many demands on you as a professional athlete that exceed the season.”
The only question to those closest to Kuechly was when he would come back to finish his degree. They all believed he would fulfill his promise—it was only a matter of time.
“I absolutely knew he was going to come back,” Gallup said. “Was I sure he was going to come back this year? You don’t know what the teams are going to do. They say in advance, ‘Yeah, you can do that. But we want you training here, we want you doing this, we want you doing that…’”
“I think he did know all along that he was going to be coming back,” Kuechly’s mom, Eileen, said. “We would kind of jokingly, in different conversations, say, ‘Well Luke, it sure is going to make your mom happy if you go back.’ And it does make me very happy. Probably somewhere deep, Luke knew that this was something that he needed to do, not just for me, but for himself, too.”
His parents, his friends, Gallup, and even his older teammates on the Panthers all encouraged him to come back to BC right away, but that process is often easier said than done. Kuechly didn’t know if the Panthers might have other plans for him during the offseason. Or, there was the fact that this was the first kind of break Kuechly was getting in a year and a half.
“He hasn’t had a moment off since summer [going into] his junior year because he’s been on the go,” Zola said. “He went from a semester where he’s a junior in the fall semester and a full-time football player to a semester where he’s working out to make himself ready for the draft, to a summer where he’s trying to make a team, to a fall where he’s the leading tackler in the NFL. And all of a sudden, he’s got a couple of months before OTAs (Organized Team Activities) in April—one could certainly understand him wanting to relax.”
But once he knew the Panthers wouldn’t be playing playoff football in January, the idea of taking time off to relax wasn’t in Kuechly’s plan.
With his promise in mind, Kuechly got in touch with Keeley again in October. The two discussed a plan for Kuechly to enroll in the upcoming spring semester and worked out the details for his schedule.
“Before we made any commitments, we looked at the courses he needed to take, had consultations with faculty members, looked at the number of classes he might miss, how he might make them up, and only when we were sure that he could complete them legitimately did we say, ‘Yeah, this is a go,’” Keeley said.