NEEDHAM, Mass. -- In a surprise ceremony, Luke Kuechly was handed the 2011 Butkus Award trophy, which honors the nation's top linebacker, by the man himself at the end of the Boston College football banquet on Sunday.
BC coach Frank Spaziani joked during his remarks that he had snapped his fingers and made Kenny Chesney appear to address the team earlier this season, with mixed results following in a down year for the Eagles. The team showed a montage of some of the many plays Kuechly made in 2011, and Spaziani said the player he likes to call the Human Eraser and the Boy Wonder was the closest thing he'd seen to Dick Butkus since Butkus.
Following those remarks, Spaziani again snapped his fingers and the doors behind Kuechly opened and in walked Butkus holding the award.
"I was like 'Don't hit me or anything!' I didn't know what was going on, I turned around and these two big guys were right behind me," Kuechly said of his reaction to the surprise entrance. "I was like, 'Wow, what's going on?' because I thought it was supposed to be announced later in the week."
"Just checking up on him a little bit, he makes tackles," Butkus said of Kuechly, who set the career tackles mark for both the ACC and BC in 2011. "You're on defense a lot, you're making plays. You just don't make him if you're not any good. I just like his speed, he's an intelligent player and a good guy."
Kuechly, a junior from Cincinnati, leads the nation this season with 191 tackles. He also had three interceptions. His 532 career tackles are records for the Atlantic Coast Conference and BC, which finished its season at 4-8.
Kuechly was chosen by a committee of 51 coaches, recruiters, scouts and journalists.
He received 58 points and 18 first-place votes. He was followed by Alabama teammates Dont'a Hightower (33 points and 5 first-place votes) and Courtney Upshaw (23 and 3), Manti Te'o of Notre Dame (20 and 1), Lavonte David of Nebraska (16 and 1), and Jarvis Jones of Georgia (14 and 1).
Though he hadn't had much time to reflect on the honor, Kuechly was appreciative.
"That's the big one," the junior said of the award. "Just looking at past years, Von Miller won it last year, [Rolando] McClain, Aaron Curry, all those guys. That's the best award I think you can win as a linebacker.
"Being mentioned with those guys and winning an award that's named after a guy like Dick Butkus, I'm excited about it. It's a great honor."
Miller, of Texas A&M, now with the Denver Broncos, won last year with Kuechly finishing second.
"A lot of people said I got snubbed last year because Von Miller won it, but I don't think I got gypped at all," Kuechly said. "Look at him now. He's the No. 2 draft pick and he's killing it right now in the NFL."
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.