Carolina Panther Luke Kuechly has been honored in countless ways, but leave it to a 7-year-old boy to find what could be the ultimate fan tribute: A Luke Kuechly Christmas tree.
Ethan Hurst is a second-grader at Cherry Hill Primary in the small Ohio town of Washington Court House, and he likes Kuechly “because he’s from Ohio and he’s a good tackler.” (Kuechly’s hometown of Cincinnati is about 80 miles southwest of Washington Court House.)
Hence, there’s now a tree in the family’s living room that has Kuechly’s jersey number 59 as the dominant decoration, along with a painted Panthers wooden helmet at the crown. All the ornaments are McDonald’s NFL toys.
His mom, Rachael Hurst, said she’s fine with it, despite the fact that no one else in the family is a Panthers fan. It took four hours to put up.
“I was happy about it, because Luke Kuechly is a good role model with a positive image,” she said. “He’s a type of guy that would stop and help somebody on the side of the road, and it’s important for young boys to have someone like that to model themselves after.”
Ethan said he has two dreams in life: to be a scientist and to play football like Luke Kuechly.
The boy became a Panthers fan at age 4, while watching them play against the Minnesota Vikings, his mom said. The family thought maybe it was just the team’s colors he liked, but he was still talking about the Panthers weeks later, she said.
“He started off liking Cam Newton, and he still does,” his mom said, “but last year his uncle, who was a linebacker for Wabash University, got him a Kuechly jersey for Christmas and it was all No. 59 from there on. He likes Kuechly because he is ‘like Uncle Greg.’”
The rest of the men in the family, including his dad Jacob, are all for Ohio teams. That means there’s trash talk to spare about the Panthers. However, the boy said they limit their remarks to the team and not clean-cut Kuechly, who learned Monday that he is one of eight finalists for the NFL’s 2017 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award.
Over the weekend, Kuechly was photographed allowing a young fan to try on his cleats after practice. There are also plenty of YouTube videos of Kuechly interacting with young fans, including an instance in which a young boy gave Kuechly a handmade soap box derby car and Kuechly had the boy autograph it.
As for what Ethan wants for Christmas, it’s a list that includes nothing but Panthers gear...and a dirt bike.
He’d also like to know that Kuechly saw the tree on social media and that the athlete got his message.
“Keep pounding,” Ethan said.