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When Labatt Blue Light asked to sponsor a post about a pair of Boston College Eagles who stand out above the rest, we didn't have to think very long about who would make for appropriate honorees: Luke Kuechly and Mark Herzlich.
At face, Kuechly and Herzlich seem like a strange duo. Heading into the 2009 season, the pair weren't even slated to play with one another. Herzlich was going into his senior season while Kuechly had only recently arrived on the BC campus as a true freshman. However, after Mark was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, Kuechly was asked to step up and fill the shoes of the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
To say that Kuechly lived up to the task of filling Herzlich's shoes would be an understatement of monumental proportions. As a true freshmen, Kuechly averaged 12.2 tackles per game, the highest average of any rookie since the NCAA began recording tackles in 2003. His 158 tackles led the ACC and ranked second in FBS (behind only New Mexico's Carmen Messina). His 158 tackles also placed him fourth on the Eagles' all-time single-season tackles list ... again, as a true freshman. In one of his best performances last season, Kuechly stuffed Florida State's Lonnie Pryor on three consecutive goal-line rushing attempts to preserve an eventual 28-21 Eagles victory.
While Herzlich sat out the entire season, he continued to serve the team as a vocal leader on the sidelines. His heroic battle with cancer served as an inspiration to an Eagles' team that would go on to win 8 games and appear in their 11th consecutive bowl game. The Eagles accomplished all this despite breaking in a new quarterback, a new coach staff and an inexperienced linebacking corps. Having conquered cancer, Mark now eyes a return to the field. Even though he was limited to non-contact drills in the spring, he remains determined to run out with the team onto the Alumni Stadium turf on September 4. He's reportedly feeling great, off intercepting Tom Brady's passes in charity flag football events and using the summer to get strength back in his left leg.
This season, Kuechly will move from outside to middle linebacker. Opposing ACC offenses will be loathe to see both Kuechly and Herzlich lined up next to one another in the Eagles' linebacking corps. The most incredible part is that Kuechly accomplished all that he did in his first year without having shared the field with Herzlich. Even if Mark doesn't return to a full 100 percent, his presence alone will keep opposing offenses from keying in exclusively on Kuechly. When it's all said and done, Kuechly could very well finish as the Eagles' all-time leading tackler. He's currently on pace to clear Steven Boyd's all-time Eagles record of 524 by a full 100 tackles.
If Herzlich can return close to 100 percent this fall, the Kuechly / Herzlich combo could be the best linebacker duo in the NCAA.