BOSTON (AP) — Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly left Boston College as the school's most decorated player. But it wasn't until he came back to campus after his rookie pro season that he picked up the honor his parents wanted most.
Kuechly spent his first semester after winning the NFL's defensive rookie of the year award back in school, living in a dorm with his friends, taking five classes toward his degree. He finished his academic requirements online over the next two offseasons and graduated in 2015.
Asked on Friday what motivated him to get the degree, he said with a smile, "Because my mom told me to do it."
"That's all you've got to say," Kuechly said at a news conference in Chestnut Hill on Friday, a day before BC will retire his number during its game against Syracuse. "As long as she's happy, you're good. Once she's mad, it's trouble."
Kuechly led the nation in tackles for two consecutive seasons in college and won the Butkus, Nagurski and Lombardi awards before going pro. He was picked by Carolina as the No. 9 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft. He was the AP's defensive rookie of the year and Defensive Player of the Year the next year.
Last year, he helped the Panthers to a 15-1 record and a spot in the Super Bowl.
But Eileen Kuechly held him to the promise he made when he left school after his junior season.
"We shook on it, that he was going to get his degree," she said.
It wasn't hard to persuade him to come back to campus while his friends were still there, but finishing the final classes was more of a slog.
"That was the best. Back with all the guys again," Kuechly said. "I missed that part of being at school, just going back to the dorms, being with all your friends. That was cool. That was probably my favorite part about being back, was being around all the guys."
Although he had spent time on campus, Kuechly hadn't been back for a game because of the difficulty of matching up his NFL off weeks with the BC schedule.
"You walk back on campus, it's very nostalgic," he said, listing some of the places he had missed — a dorm that's been demolished, a dining hall, a classroom building. "It was a special place. I'm glad I had the opportunity to come here."
Having his number retired, Kuechly said, was something he thought about as a player while working out in the stadium under banners for players like Doug Flutie and Mike Ruth.
"You thought always one day maybe you could be up there on the wall with those guys," he said.
Flutie lives in the area and comes back often; his nephew, Billy, was a teammate of Kuechly's.
"I think the No. 1 thing that makes me proud to be a BC alum, when guys like Luke come through. What they did at school, what they do off the field, and now continuing in his NFL career, it's been amazing," Doug Flutie said. "What he stands for and what this school stands for, he exemplifies."