Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly knocked out a final paper on Walt Disney’s business strategies in May to finish his business marketing degree at Boston College.
The diploma is at his parents’ house in Cincinnati, hopefully displayed more prominently than the Defensive Player of the Year Award he kept stashed in its box two years ago.
“It’s all in Latin, so I don’t even know if it says I graduated,” Kuechly joked Thursday. “My mom’s got it. She was all excited. So we’re done with that.”
Excited was a good way to describe Kuechly’s mood Thursday as he talked to reporters.
He’d arrived at Wofford a day early, so he didn’t have to make the drive from Charlotte on Thursday morning. It was like the first day of school only better, without classes to attend.
“Everyone’s pulling up, everyone’s unpacking,” Kuechly said. “I saw a lot of guys this week at the stadium, but you get to see the rest of them. Everybody will all be here.”
Kuechly likes his privacy and doesn’t often get into the particulars of his personal life.
Probably just as well, unless you’re interested in reading about box jumps and the intricacies of the Atlanta Falcons’ combination blocks.
Kuechly’s offseason routine looks a lot like his in-season regimen: He stayed in Charlotte and camped out at Bank of America Stadium, leaving only when they kicked him out for international soccer friendlies.
He worked out over the summer with a group of townies that included tight end Greg Olsen, linebackers Thomas Davis and A.J. Klein and defensive tackles Dwan Edwards and Kawann Short.
Did they do anything to change up their workouts?
“Not really,” Kuechly said. “Nothing crazy.”
Crazy to Kuechly does not have the same meaning as it might to other 24-year-olds who are soon to be millionaires 30 times over.
He hunts, he fishes. When he’s feeling especially adventurous, he orders Thai takeout.
One thing he doesn’t do: Obsess over the negotiations on his contract extension.
“It’s one of those things, it’s going to happen when it happens,” he said. “For right now, I know I’ve got a (dorm) room. I know hopefully I’ve got a locker down there. And that’s all I really need right now.”
Just as they did last year with quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers have picked up Kuechly’s fifth-year option. He’s set to make $2.1 million this year and would make a guaranteed $11.1 million in 2016 if he plays under the option.
But the Panthers hope to get an extension done before then for a player who has gone to two Pro Bowls, twice led the league in tackles and has won Defensive Rookie and Defensive Player of the Year awards.
General manager Dave Gettleman has said he won’t negotiate with any player during the season. So if the Panthers don’t reach an agreement with Kuechly in the next six weeks, the deal likely won’t get done until next offseason
But Gettleman doesn’t feel as if he’s working under any deadline pressure.
“I’ve said this to you before we got Cam done, before we got (Davis) done. Deals get done when they’re supposed to get done. They really do,” Gettleman said. “You may look at me like I’ve got brain damage, but that’s really the truth. It’s the way it works.”
After taking over in 2013, Gettleman’s first order of business was getting the Panthers’ salary cap in order. Since then, he has weeded out several members of the team’s old core – most notably Jon Beason, Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams – and begun locking up the new core.
During the past two offseasons, Gettleman has given lucrative extensions to Newton, Olsen, Davis and kicker Graham Gano, and re-signed defensive end Mario Addison, safety Colin Jones, tight end Ed Dickson and offensive tackle Nate Chandler to multiyear deals.
Olsen said management has taken care of players who have performed well on the field and represented the franchise well off it.
“To have a core group of guys that try to do that day in and day out and then see them get rewarded, I think the message is clear,” Olsen said. “If you come here and you play well and you do things the right way within the building and outside the building, there’s going to be opportunities to be rewarded.”
Kuechly and cornerback Josh Norman are next up. Both would seem to fit Olsen’s description of players the front office has rewarded, although the two have different interests off the field.
Norman skydived during the offseason. Kuechly did not.
But he did finish his degree, wrapping up his coursework three years after he left Boston College to enter the draft.
Leaving school early proved to be a smart business decision, much like many of those made by Walt Disney, the subject of Kuechly’s final paper.
“It was (on) the strategy of Disney World and stuff like that, so it wasn’t super dry,” Kuechly said. “It was actually pretty interesting.”