Kuechly was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and grew up in Evendale, Ohio. He attended St. Xavier High School in the Finneytown area of Cincinnati, where he played linebacker and safety for the football team. As a junior in 2007 he had 147 tackles, six sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and a touchdown as a linebacker. He helped his team go 15-0, winning the Division 1 Ohio state title, and finishing at the top of several national polls (Calpreps.com and Prepnation.com) as the best high school team in America. As a senior in 2008, he had 130 tackles, a sack, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Kuechly was a two-time All Greater Catholic League selection at St. Xavier, gaining first-team honors in 2008.
Regarded as a three-star recruit, Kuechly was listed as the No. 44 outside linebacker prospect in the class of 2009, which was headed by Jelani Jenkins and Nico Johnson. After official visits to Boston College, Virginia, Duke, and Stanford, Kuechly committed to the Eagles in January 2009.
Kuechly attended Boston College, a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), where he played for the Boston College Eagles football team from 2009 to 2011. Boston College retired his jersey on October 22, 2016.
As a true freshman in 2009, Kuechly became the Eagles' starting outside linebacker after Mark Herzlich announced that he would miss the season after being diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. He finished the season with 158 tackles (87 solo), which led the team and conference, as well as being second nationally (first among freshmen). He was the first true freshman in team history to lead the team in tackles and almost broke the freshman tackle record set by Stephen Boyd in 1991. He also had a sack and returned an interception for a touchdown. For his play, he was named the 2009 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and was on the 2009 CFN All-Freshman Defensive Team. CFN went even further and named the true freshman Kuechly to its All-America team.
He moved to middle linebacker at the beginning of his sophomore season. He went on to lead the country with 183 tackles (110 solo) and had an ongoing streak of 21 straight games with at least 10 tackles at the end of the season. Kuechly was named a finalist for the Butkus Award and the Nagurski Award. He broke Boston College's single season record for tackles, topping the previous record of 165, held since 1991 by Tom McManus. After the season, Kuechly was named a unanimous first-team All-American. He was the first consensus All-American for the Eagles since Jamie Silva in 2007. Boston College played in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (the same bowl as the Emerald Bowl from the previous season with a change of corporate sponsorship) at the end of the season and Kuechly was named the defensive MVP for a second time.
Kuechly led the nation with 191 tackles (102 solo) during the season, averaging nearly 16 tackles per game. Kuechly compiled his stats in the 12-game regular season, as the team finished with a 4-8 record and was ineligible for post-season play. He still almost broke the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) single-season tackle record (193, set by Lawrence Flugence in a 14-game season) and did break the single season tackles-per-game record with 15.9 (previously held by Rick Sherrod with a 15.6 average over a 10-game season). He broke his own team and conference single-season tackle records set just a year earlier.
In only three seasons of play, Kuechly set the Boston College and ACC career tackle records with 532 tackles, eclipsing the previous record of 524 held by Stephen Boyd and only 13 short of the NCAA FBS record held by Tim McGarigle. On December 4, Dick Butkus personally presented the 2011 Butkus Award to Kuechly at the Boston College team banquet a week before the expected formal announcement of the recipient. Kuechly went on to win the Lombardi Award, the Lott IMPACT Trophy, and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, and was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American for the second consecutive year.FWAA 75th Anniversary All-America Team (2015)
ACC Athlete of the Year (2012)
3× First-team All-American (2009, 2010, 2011)
3× First-team All-ACC (2009, 2010, 2011)
Butkus Award (2011)
Lombardi Award (2011)
Lott IMPACT Trophy (2011)
Bronko Nagurski Trophy (2011)
Jack Lambert Award (2011)
ACC Defensive Player of the Year (2011)
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Defensive MVP (2011)
ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year (2009)
Emerald Bowl Defensive MVP (2009)
On January 6, 2012, Kuechly announced his intention to forgo his final year of college eligibility and enter the 2012 NFL Draft. At the time of his announcement, he was rated the top linebacker available in this draft: Mel Kiper Jr. ranked him tenth on his "Big Board", while Todd McShay ranked him thirteenth in his "Top 32". Kuechly quashed any lingering doubts about his athleticism with his performance at the combine and pro day workouts, demonstrating rare pass coverage abilities which would allow him to be a "three-down" inside linebacker (i.e. not subbed-out on obvious passing downs) which raised his draft stock even further.
He was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the first round: the first linebacker selected and the 9th overall pick. On May 10, 2012, Kuechly signed a 4-year, $12.58 million contract.
Kuechly began the season at outside linebacker instead of middle linebacker; After considering Kuechly as starting middle linebacker, coach Ron Rivera decided to start veteran Jon Beason at middle linebacker due to his experience. When Beason was placed on injured reserve due to a torn Achilles tendon, Kuechly was moved to middle linebacker. Due to his strong performance at middle linebacker, Rivera announced that Kuechly would be the team's long-term starter at that position even after Beason returned from his injury. In a 30-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14, Kuechly recorded a career-high 16 tackles and was honored as NFC Defensive Rookie of the Week; Kuechly received the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month award in December, recording a league-high 59 tackles over the final five games of the season. He became the second Panther after Julius Peppers to receive the award. Kuechly led the league with 164 tackles during the regular season and recorded 8 pass deflections, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, and three fumble recoveries. He was awarded the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and received the Defensive Rookie of the Year award from Pro Football Weekly.
While not being an official stat kept by the NFL, after tape review, Panthers coaches credited Kuechly with a franchise record 205 tackles, surpassing James Anderson’s 174 set in 2011, and became the first rookie to lead the NFL in that department since Patrick Willis in 2007. Kuechly was rated as the 79th best player on the NFL Top 100 list.
Kuechly brought his play to a whole new level in his second season, becoming the leader of a stingy Panthers defense that finished the season as runner-up in points and yards allowed. On Sunday, December 22, 2013, Kuechly recorded 24 tackles and 1 interception in a game against the New Orleans Saints, which the Carolina Panthers won and made the 2013-2014 playoffs. Kuechly's 24 tackles nearly tied the NFL record for most tackles in a game. After film review, the number was increased to 26, which is 6 tackles more than the previous team record held by James Anderson, and a new NFL single game record. Kuechly was also selected to the 2014 Pro Bowl where he had a team high 12 tackles for Team Sanders. Kuechly was named to the 2013 All-Pro Team and recognized as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press, joining Lawrence Taylor as the only players in NFL history to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in successive years. Further, Kuechly joined Taylor, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Dana Stubblefield, Charles Woodson, Brian Urlacher, and Terrell Suggs to win both awards. Kuechly was rated as the 15th best player in the NFL Top 100 List.
During the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kuechly recorded 9 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and had a tipped pass that led to an interception. In a week 2 game against the Detroit Lions, Kuechly recorded 11 tackles and 2 pass deflections en route to a 24-7 victory. During the Panthers week 5 victory over the Chicago Bears, Kuechly was credited with 15 tackles without a missed tackle and allowed only 47 yards on nine receptions in coverage. Through the first five games of the season, Pro Football Focus has rated Kuechly as the best inside linebacker in the NFL. During Week 7 against the Green Bay Packers on October 19, 2014, Kuechly was ejected for making inadvertent contact with an official; while trying to break free of a pile, Kuechly was grabbed from behind by an official. Not knowing it was an official, Kuechly swung his arm, resulting in his ejection. The NFL later determined that Kuechly should not have been ejected. Kuechly finished the regular season, leading the NFL in tackles with 153, along with 3 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, and a career-high 12 pass deflections. He was voted to the Pro Bowl and was also selected to the NFL All-Pro First Team for the second consecutive season. He also won the Butkus Award for the second time, joining Von Miller and Patrick Willis as the only players to win the award in both college and in the NFL.
During the Panthers 27-16 playoff victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Kuechly made three defensive stops, 10 tackles, 1 interception, and 2 pass defenses, one of which he tipped directly to Tre Boston for another interception. During the Panthers playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Kuechly was credited with 8 total tackles (2 solo and 6 assists). For the season, Kuechly led the NFL with 81 defensive stops.
On September 10, 2015, Kuechly signed a five-year, $62 million extension with the Panthers, becoming the NFL's highest-paid middle linebacker by annual average salary. During the season opener, Kuechly suffered a concussion during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and left the game. He missed the first game of his NFL career in the following week when the Panthers defeated the Houston Texans. Kuechly returned to the field during the Panthers week 6 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle. During the game, he recorded 14 tackles and 8 defensive stops. Kuechly continued to play in form during the Panthers victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, recording 11 defensive stops, 1 TFL, 1 pass defensed, and 1 QB hit. Despite missing 3 games through the first 7 weeks, Kuechly graded as PFF's best linebacker in the NFL.
Kuechly tied a season high 14 tackles during a Monday Night Football victory over the Indianapolis Colts. He also had 3 passes defended and interception in overtime to set up a Graham Gano game-winning field goal. Kuechly followed up his impressive performance the following week during the Panthers 37-29 victory over the Green Bay Packers where he recorded a team-high nine tackles and four stops to go along with his 5th pass defensed of the season. The following week, Kuechly forced a fumble for just the second time in his career during the Panthers 27-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans. The next week, during the Panthers 44-16 victory over the Washington Redskins to move them to 10-0, Kuechly recorded 4 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. The next week Kuechly recorded 7 tackles, 2 passes defenses, and 2 interceptions for 49 yards and a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in a 33-14 win, which helped Carolina reach 11-0. During the game, Kuechly became the first player with picks on back-to-back plays from scrimmage since 1997 and upped his career total to 10, most among all linebackers since 2012. Additionally, his pick 6 was the first of his NFL career and the first one since his junior season at Boston College. He was awarded the All-Iron Award and NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance during the game; it was his fourth such honor in his career, setting a new Panthers' franchise record.
According to PFF through the first 12 weeks of the season, Kuechly's 17.6 run-stop percentage ranked first for any defensive player regardless of position with at least 100 snaps against the run. Further, Kuechly was one of seven linebackers with 30 or more tackles in the run game, and just one missed tackle. In coverage, Kuechly had three interceptions and four passes defended with no touchdowns allowed. He also allowed the second-lowest passer rating among all linebackers when targeted in coverage at 47.4 and is the one of just three linebacker with more than 25 tackles in coverage, and only one missed tackle. During the Panthers week 14 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Kuechly recorded his fourth interception of this season against quarterback Matt Ryan. His 11 career interceptions are the most by any linebacker since he came into the league in 2012. During the Panthers thrilling 38-35 victory over the New York Giants to move them to 14-0, Kuechly recorded 15 tackles, his highest total since 2014 Week 5. Kuechly was the winner of PFF's inaugural Dick "Night Train” Lane Award, given to the defender who performed the best in pass-coverage over the course of the season. Kuechly led all linebackers in allowing a passer rating of just 48.7 into his coverage (playoffs included).
In the Panthers' 31–24 win over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Divisional Round, Kuechly intercepted Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson early in the first quarter and returned the pick 14 yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 14–0 lead. He added another "pick six" late in the Panthers' 49–15 win over the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. On February 7, 2016, Kuechly was part of the Panthers team that played in Super Bowl 50. In the game, he recorded 10 tackles and a sack, but the Panthers fell to the Denver Broncos by a score of 24–10. Ten days after, it was announced that Kuechly would undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum. Sources said that he had played through the injury throughout the postseason.
Kuechly was named to his third straight Pro Bowl, third straight first-team All-Pro, and was ranked as the seventh best player by his peers on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2016.
In 2016, Kuechly started 10 games before suffering a concussion in Week 11, keeping him out the rest of the season. Despite the concussion and missing six games, Kuechly still recorded over 100 tackles, two sacks, six passes defensed and one interception. He made his fourth straight Pro Bowl and was named second-team All-Pro, and was ranked 20th on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2017.^†
Kuechly is the middle child in his family, with an older brother named John and younger brother named Henry. His family members are avid outdoorsmen and Luke began bird hunting at age four. He also fishes, shoots skeet, and hunts deer. Kuechly didn't begin playing football until fourth grade and always wanted to play defense. While attending St. Xavier high school, Kuechly wore number 3.