Kentucky football: Luke Fortner the Big Blue Wall’s solid “center” piece

Kentucky's Luke Fortner (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Kentucky's Luke Fortner (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /

One of the more underrated and overlooked positions on an offensive line is ultimately the centerpiece of that solid place where every offensive play begins.  Kentucky football’s Big Blue Wall is often looked at as a unit but this season they will have a seasoned “rookie” in Will Fortner at the center.

Given the chance to return to Kroger Field for the fifth year after last’s season Covid-19 Fortner said he never hesitated in his desire and decision to play for the Wildcats and head coach Mark Stoops.

"“I’m so excited that I decided to come back. I never thought twice about it. Coach Stoops has an incredible program and I’m glad to be a part of it for another year.”"

Fortner is the kind of player that will do whatever is asked of him without question for the betterment of himself, the team, and representing Big Blue Nation.

Standing 6-foot-6, 300-pounds from Sylvania, Ohio, Fortner began making the transition to center during the fall camp, but it’s been a learning curve from his natural right guard position.

After Saturday’s second full scrimmage he talked about his progression.

"“It feels really good,” Fortner said. “I have some great guards next to me and some great tackles, so that helps. I’ve watched Drake (Jackson) do it enough that I can take their experience and kind of mold it into my own style.”"

Those include players like Darian Kinnard and Kenneth Horsely to his left and Eli Cox and Jeremy Flax to the right along with Austin Dillion, Jager Burton, David Wohlabaugh Jr., and LSU transfer beast Dare Robinson all battling and increasing depth and stability along the wall.

While Fortner has dabbled at the position a bit over the years at Kentucky, mostly in practice as a precaution in case anything had happened to previous center Drake Jackson. Coach Jon Schlarman had him get some reps in and he even saw some action in 2018 during Kentucky’s 48-10 win over Murray State.

He added it was something he had dabbled with, but this year is the most snaps he has gotten in his career.

Studying something new and challenging and how to overcome that is right in Fortner’s wheelhouse. Having already graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from UK, he is also finishing his Master’s Degree as well this year.

He used that time obtaining his degree to also work in the community where every week you could find him at Lexington’s Children’s Hospital. He would answer questions from the children, share stories, and just provide support for whatever they were going through. Even back home while classes were remote he and Max Duffy still had video chats with the kids.

That inspiration led to him and other engineering students to work with Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky where they designed a specially built pushcart vehicle that allowed the patient kids the thrill of accompanying the Wildcats on the Cat Walk and the experience to attend a game at Kroger Field in a project called “Lift Them Up.”

In January, Fortner was one of three UK student-athletes inducted into the Frank G. Ham Society of Character. This is presented to Wildcats who have shown an extraordinary commitment to academic excellence, athletic participation, personal development, career preparation, and serving as a role model.

Well, that definitely describes Fortner. When you watch the video you understand how much it meant to not only the kids but to Fortner and the team.

Now he is back in Lexington with the Cats for a fifth season and while he has big shoes to fill at the center spot and also learning a new offense from Liam Coen. But never fear new quarterback Will Levis will be in good hands taking snaps.

Looking back to spring practice Fortner admitted during Saturday’s press conference that it was a struggle at times taking way too many snaps to master, but now he and Levis have worked a ton at it and feels really good between the two now saying “the more reps you get the better chemistry you have.”

Fortner has been a part of the Big Blue Wall for years now having played in 42 career games and started in 23 consecutive games played at right guard. Now that he is in the center of it he knows he has some solid brothers flanking him on either side.

"“It feels really good. I have some great guards next to me and some great tackles, so that helps. I’ve watched Drake (Jackson) do it enough that I can take their experience and kind of mold it into my own style.”"

Fortner admitted that while it’s been fun learning the new system he is ready for game time on September 4 when Louisianna Monroe comes to Lexington to kickoff the season. He is getting a little tired of seeing Kentucky starting nose tackle Marquan McCall staring him in the eye.

"“I’m definitely getting tired of hitting Marquan and our d-line plus Josh (Paschal) is really hard to block but we are ready to go out and hit somebody different and start game-planning and we’re excited for that.”"

There is little doubt how much Fortner loves playing football and at Kentucky. He chose the Wildcats for the atmosphere and said the one word that describes him best is dependable. Oh and if he ever got stranded on an island he would want it to be with Jackson.

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