After six seasons on the Kentucky football team, Luke Fortner is moving on to the next level. The now-former Wildcat is heading to Jacksonville, after being selected by the Jaguars as the No. 65 overall pick in the third round in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Fortner was one of the Wildcats who saw his draft stock rise the most during the 2021 season into this spring. His official numbers certainly caught the attention of the NFL scouts who were in attendance for UK's Pro Day earlier this month. By that point, he'd already impressed at the NFL Combine and the Senior Bowl.
Now, for the first time since 2016, Fortner will be a rookie again. Those who know him or have paid close attention to his collegiate career know that won't deter him from having a meaningful impact on his new organization.
In addition to his lengthy list of football accomplishments (we'll get back to those in a minute), Fortner has also been a leader in the locker room, on campus and in the community since he arrived in Lexington. He's served as an Allstate AFCA Good Works Team member, was on the SEC Community Service Team, and was a semifinalist for the Weurffel Trophy. He was also a five-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll, and he was inducted into UK's Frank G. Ham Society of Character in 2019.
Fortner is often praised for his academic accolades, and for good reason. He's earned a Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, a Master's degree in aerospace engineering, and his Master's of Business Administration during his time on the UK football team.
That intelligence was evident in his play on the field, especially during his "super senior" season in 2021. After spending the majority of his collegiate career as the right guard on the offensive line, Fortner made the move to center last fall, replacing a multi-year starter in Drake Jackson.
He more than held his own. By the end of the year, Fortner was a two-time SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week and a second-team All-SEC Selection by both Pro Football Focus and college football expert Phil Steele. He was also placed on the Rimington Trophy Watch List, an annual award given to the nation's top center, despite only playing one full season at the position.
Fortner earned his first SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honor after Kentucky's win over ULM, totaling four knockdown blocks, eight blocks at the point of attack. He did not allow a sack. A few weeks later, he notched his second SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week award. That one came after the South Carolina game, when he grading at 84 percent, had 26 blocks at the point of attack, did not miss an assignment or allow any quarterback pressures from the Gamecocks.
His play, even in this new role, remained a consistent and essential component for Kentucky's offensive line. Fortner played in 55 total games for the Wildcats, including 36 consecutive starts.
In many ways, Fortner's role on the O-line and the team showcases the evolution of Kentucky football throughout the Mark Stoops era. His play helped cement the legacy of the Big Blue Wall as one of the top lines in college football, and he was part of two historically-good, 10-win teams. His unit was recognized by the Joe Moore Award, which is given to the nation's top offensive lines, for four consecutive seasons while Fortner was on the team.
Six years, three degrees and two positions later, Fortner's consistent contributions, unwavering loyalty to the Wildcats, and now professional career are reminders of how far the program has come.
"I'm incredibly proud of where we're leaving this program. I feel like we left it better than we found it. That's the golden rule," Fortner told BBN Tonight in an exclusive interview leading up to the NFL Draft. "Six years ago, was it a home game? We lost to Southern Miss. To go from there to having two 10-win seasons.. To have those and leave the program in that state is something we're super proud of."
His time in Lexington may be done, but it's clear Fortner will always bleed blue.