GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Just like one of his hits, Luke Kuechly's unexpected retirement announcement rocked Piedmont Panther fans.
"It caught me off guard," Kedrick Russell said. "My heart dropped when I found out the news that Luke was retiring."
A first-round pick in 2012, Luke Kuechly grew into a legend. The seven-time pro bowl linebacker was a defensive star for the Carolina Panthers.
"He was a driving force on the defense," Bennett Waller said. "He was able to read the teams. So it's some big shoes they will have to fill."
Russell believes Kuechly can help fill the defensive void he is now leaving behind.
"I still see the fire to be around football. I think being a linebacker's coach would be a great thing, and it would light a fire under the team," Russell said.
Drew McIntyre explained Kuechly made a big difference off of the field as well.
"There's a family I go to church with that has a son that did the Make-A-Wish program with Luke," McIntyre said. "They spoke highly of Luke and how good he was with their son and how much he meant to them."
Nick VanHorn described how his wife met Luke Kuechly.
"She ran into him into him literally. She was in the Charlotte Marathon last year," VanHorn said. "She said he was super nice and that was her connection with the Panthers and really appreciated the Panthers after being in the Carolinas for 20 years."
Kuechly is gone, the futures of quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen appear murky and there's a new head coach.
Everything is pointing toward a tough 2020 season. But Panther fans are sticking with their team.
"I still believe in the Panthers," Russell said. "I think that everything that is happening is going to lead to success down the road."