CHARLOTTE – Head coach Ron Rivera offered a prediction for linebacker Luke Kuechly's response to the inevitable questions about playing a game in his hometown of Cincinnati.
"I bet if you asked him he'd say, 'Yep. Cool,'" Rivera said. "That's just him. He takes things in stride and handles things the same way."
For the most part, Rivera was right. But Kuechly took time to elaborate.
Kuechly said his father collected more than 100 tickets for family and friends.
"I'll have a nice section up there," Kuechly said with a smile.
He recalled memories of two high school football games he played at Paul Brown Stadium. Kuechly and his teammates at St. Xavier won them both.
"Undefeated right now," he said.
The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year understands the pre-game chatter surrounding his first NFL homecoming. And he likes talking about his hometown and the chance to enjoy a meal with family.
But when pre-game becomes game time, that's when this unique storyline fades away for Kuechly.
"It'll be good. It's an opportunity to play in front of a bunch of people I know. It's one of those things you are going to think about a lot before the game," Kuechly said. "Truly, once the game kicks off – and I'm not just saying it – it's going to be a (regular) game.
"I have to worry about Andy Dalton, Jermaine Gresham and Giovani Bernard. There's not going to be a whole lot of me looking up and seeing if I see anybody I know."
Fellow-linebacker and close friend Thomas Davis takes a different approach to his homecoming games in Atlanta. Davis relishes those opportunities in the Georgia Dome against the Falcons.
"Whenever you get the opportunity to go back and play in front of your home town, you are going to try and give a little extra if you have it in you," Davis said. "I know I try to do that when we play Atlanta."
Davis expects a typical, productive Kuechly performance on Sunday.
"He's going to give everything he's got," Davis said.
And maybe a little extra.
"That's just how it is," Davis said. "Naturally, that's how we are built."