Three-hundred and twenty. That's the number of tackles Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly made during his first two seasons in the NFL. In that short span, Kuechly established himself as one of the best middle linebackers in the league, so much so that his former teammate, Giants linebacker Jon Beason, refers to him as "the standard" at the position. So how does Kuechly improve on last season's Pro Bowl performance in year three? STACK caught up with him at the Arnold Sports Festival 2014 and asked.
STACK: What's your focus this off-season? How are you feeling after two years?
Luke Kuechly: I need to get my weight back up where I need it. That's a process more than anything. You have to give yourself time to work and be disciplined in what you are doing. So, you know Clif [Clif Marshall of Ignition APG] will get me right up there. He always does a great job. So, I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of things before camp starts.
STACK: Do you have a hard time keeping on weight?
LK: If I concentrate on it, no. But if I slack off, it rolls off pretty quick.
STACK:What do you do to counteract that?
LK: Just eat, eat, eat. You've got to get on a good program and figure out how you are going to eat and when you are going to eat. As long as you have a good diet and you are disciplined, it stays on pretty easily.
STACK: How do you structure your off-season?
LK: The second week in March is when I will get going again. This week and last week I started to stretch and move and get everything flowing again. But once the second week of March hits, I'm going to start cranking it up again.
STACK: What's your favorite and least favorite part of a training session?
LK: I think my least favorite part is getting started. The best part is when you are in it and you have a good sweat going. When it's tough and you have to fight through it—that's the fun part. You learn to enjoy the part of getting better.
STACK: How has your nutrition changed over the years?
LK: I eat more clean carbs, complex carbs and good clean protein. Carbs are big for me to keep that weight on and get that energy. I have five or six meals and I just try to eat as much as I can at each meal. And that builds my weight up, but you just have to make sure everything you eat is clean. So, eat as much clean food as you can, and you will be alright.
STACK: How do you recover when you're training hard?
LK: You have to work on your nutrition, and supplements are a big key to that. I use RSP Nutrition ReGen for my post-workout nutrition. It's a branch-chain amino acid group that helps with recovery.
STACK: What did you learn in your second year in the NFL?
LK: Your time in the NFL is short and there's always someone they are looking to replace you with. They are always looking for somebody that's better, whether they are bringing in a young guy . . . or an older veteran guy. That's kind of a fun challenge to make sure I am still here next year. So it's an ongoing challenge of how to get better and how to stay at your position.
STACK: Do you still feel pressure?
LK: Hey, you gotta do your job. You know what? If you are not doing your job, they have a million guys to get rid of you with. So that's what I do enjoy, the fact that it's always changing, always something going on, and you gotta always be at your best, and that's what I think is entertaining about it.
STACK: What are your personal and team goals?
LK: My personal goals are just to keep improving and keep trying to get better. I don't try to pursue numbers. I just want to do my job the best I can. If I get four tackles in a game and we win and I play great, awesome. And for the team, we want to win the division, and we want to get to the playoffs. Division, playoffs and Super Bowl. That's kind of how it goes if you ask any guy in the NFL.
STACK: If you could have offered any advice to yourself when you were in high school, what would it have been?
LK: You've just got to take it seriously. It's going to go quick, and the quick part is something you don't understand until it's already gone. I look back on it, and college is in the past, two years in the NFL are in the past, now what am I going to do? You can't worry about what happened in the past, you have to live in the present, because that's what's important.