The Kentucky Wildcats were lucky to have Drake Jackson at the center position for four years, but his successor clearly wasn't a slouch.
Luke Fortner improved significantly throughout his career before taking over at center this past season, and now he’s headed to the NFL.
With the 65th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Fortner was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he’ll team up with former Wildcats teammate Josh Allen. It was the first pick of Round 3 and the third Wildcat taken today after Wan’Dale Robinson (43rd to New York Giants) and Josh Paschal (46th to Detroit Lions) both went in Round 2.
Fortner was a lowly rated three-star prospect coming out of high school. The Maryland Terrapins were his only other Power Five offer, UK obviously saw something special in him as they were his very first offer. I should note that his uncle played for Youngstown State and that certainly helped with Mark Stoops’ and Vince Marrow’s Youngstown connections.
The 6-foot-6, 300-pound sixth year senior collected many accolades over his lengthy career—both on and off the field. The Sylvania, Ohio native played in 55 career games with 36 consecutive starts. He played right guard for the first five years of his career, but once Drake Jackson left, Fortner opted to use his COVID year and return for a sixth season to anchor the center position for the Cats last season.
Fortner was an essential component for the O-Line unit to be recognized for the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s top offensive line, four straight seasons, including finalists in 2021. Fortner redshirted as a freshman before seeing action in eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2017. In 2018, Fortner played in 11 of 13 games before taking over as the full-time starter at right guard in 2019—his redshirt junior season.
Impressively, Fortner was inducted into UK’s Frank G. Ham Society of Character in 2019, before then graduating in December of 2019 with a degree in mechanical engineering. Fortner was a five-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
As redshirt senior in 2020, Fortner started in all 10 games he played. He was named an Allstate AFCA Good Works Team member, Wuerffel Trophy semifinalist, and a member of the SEC Community Service Team.
However, it was Fortner’s sixth season that he truly blew up and made tonight a possibility. After switching to center in fall camp, Fortner became a Campbell Trophy semifinalist, was named to the Rimington Trophy Watch List (nation’s top center), was Second Team All-SEC (PFF, Phil Steele), and two-time SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week.
Luke Fortner in 2021:— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 19, 2022
85.1 PFF Grade (2nd among SEC Centers)
82.8 Pass Blocking Grade (2nd) pic.twitter.com/RXfh3aXztW
Fortner’s extra year of eligibility allowed him to complete his master’s degree requirements in aerospace engineering and will officially graduate next month. During this same time period, Fortner also will obtain a second master’s degree in business administration next month.
Fortner is about as good as it gets, both on and off the field. He’s exactly the type of guy any team would want in their locker room, and he’ll be a good one for the Jags. While he isn't excellent at any one thing, he’s a leader, he’s intelligent, and he has position flexibility to play both guard and center.
Good luck to Luke as he begins in his NFL career. Go Cats!