Pausing frequently to swallow hard and fight the hitch in his voice, St. Xavier graduate Luke Kuechly on Tuesday announced his retirement from the Carolina Panthers.
“For me, now is the right opportunity to move in a different direction,” he said in a video posted to the team’s official Twitter account. “There’s only one way to play this game since I was a little kid — play fast and play physical and play strong, and at this point I don’t know if I’m able to do that anymore. And that’s the part that is the most difficult, is, I still want to play, but I don’t think it’s the right decision.”
“In my heart, I know it’s the right thing to do.” pic.twitter.com/mSDyJ0iEMw
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) January 15, 2020
His one-time high school coach, Steve Specht, texted him as soon as he heard the news. Speaking to WCPO, Specht said he wanted Kuechly to know he loved him and was proud of him.
“God did not put Luke Kuechly in this world to just be a football player," he said. "The impact that Luke Kuechly will have on this world will not be in football. It will be something else.”
Kuechly, a 28-year-old Cincinnati native, spent 8 years as a linebacker for the Panthers. During that time, he won numerous awards: He became the AP’s third-youngest NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, its youngest-ever NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, and the recipient of seven Pro Bowl nods over the course of his professional career. He also helped the Panthers reach their second-ever Super Bowl appearance in 2015.
His talent on the field was evident even as a linebacker and safety for St. Xavier, which he attended from 2005-2009. He helped propel his team to a Division 1 title and an undefeated record in 2007.
Kuechly did not disclose a specific reason for his departure from the Panthers in Tuesday night’s announcement but expressed gratitude to his teammates, coaches and fans for their many years of support.
“I just want to say thank you to the coaches, the players, the support staff, the training staff,” he said. “Everybody involved with this organization has been the best from top to bottom since the day I got here.”
In a news release from the team, owner David Tepper wrote: "While I wish we could have him for many more years, he has done everything the right way and we respect the decision that he's made. Luke is a once-in-a-generation player and someone we want every member of this organization to emulate."
Specht said he wholeheartedly supported Kuechly's decision to leave.
"He gets out at the top of his game," Specht said. "Good for him. I am so proud of him. Nobody dictated to him. You know what? He made a decision that was best for him. He gets out at the top of his game just like he went in. He is a class, class act. I love that kid.”