CHARLOTTE - The 2012 NFL Draft took off at a fast and furious pace Thursday night, with teams trading in rapid-fire fashion in front of the Carolina Panthers and then quickly turning in their picks.
The Panthers, as it turned out, were among the fortunate few that simply had to sit tight to get their man.
General manager Marty Hurney said a week before the draft that the Panthers might consider trading down from No. 9 in some scenarios. But when Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly remained on the board, any such thoughts faded and the Panthers quickly selected one of the most prolific tacklers in college football history.
"We knew that if he was there, he would be the option there," Hurney said. "We had run through a lot of scenarios, and this is one of the scenarios where we were going to stick and take the player. We felt very happy that he was there.
"He's a solid, smart, instinctive, explosive football player. He's a sideline-to-sideline tackler, just very reliable and dependable. He has great football intelligence. He gets to full speed very quickly and is a great communicator at linebacker. He's just a very good football player."
Kuechly was the first player selected Thursday that wasn't in attendance at Radio City Music Hall in New York City for the draft, choosing instead to watch from the basement of his Cincinnati, Ohio, home with about 50 family members and friends.
"I'm just so pumped up that they want me to be on their team," Kuechly said. "It's an honor, and now I've got to get down there and do what I can to contribute to the team.
"I'm just excited right now for the opportunity."
Kuechly is always excited when it comes to football, calling the game his "top priority" since he first played it in fourth grade and won a city championship.
It seems like he was born to play linebacker, and during his days at Boston College, he played it better than anybody else in the country. Kuechly racked up 532 tackles over three seasons – second-most in major college football history – and set an NCAA standard by averaging 14 tackles per game.
Last season, he averaged 15.9 tackles, also an NCAA record, to win the Bronko Nagorski Award (nation's top defensive player) and the Butkus Award (nation's top linebacker) among others.
His contributions, however, go well beyond his eye-popping numbers.
"Anytime you pick a guy at your specialty so to speak, you do get excited, and he's a young man I was truly excited about," said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who played linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1984-92. "He's one of those types of guys that helps make the other guys around him better."
Kuechly will have some good players around him at a position from which the Panthers demand a lot. Linebackers Jon Beason and James Anderson own the five highest single-season tackle totals in franchise history, and Thomas Davis is a proven veteran.
Beason and Davis, however, are returning from injuries that sidelined them virtually all of last season, with Davis trying to come back from a third major knee injury in a two-year period.
Hurney, however, said the injury situation had no impact on the pick and added that Kuechly is versatile enough to play any of the three linebacker spots. Kuechly played primarily in the middle at Boston College – where Beason has mostly played – but Kuechly did start nine games on the weak side as a freshman, and Beason started on the weak side when Davis was out in 2010.
"We're going to look at it and just see how it all meshes," Rivera said. "We're not going to jump to any conclusions. We're going to put the best football players on the field, and we're going to play them. That's just how it's going to be."
That's just fine by Kuechly, who will travel to Charlotte on Friday and clearly can't wait to get started.
"They told me to be ready to pick it up and be ready to play all three positions," he said. "I've got to pick up the playbook quick and just be versatile and ready to go.
"I just love playing football. It's been my top priority since I started playing. I love playing football, love the mental aspects of the game and preparing for the game. It's something I enjoy doing."