UK graduate Jacksonville Jaguar Luke Fortner heads to NFL with 2 engineering degrees, MBA

UK graduate Jacksonville Jaguar Luke Fortner heads to NFL with 2 engineering degrees, MBA

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 2, 2022) You’ve heard the saying “the sky is the limit”.

It’s an uplifting phrase that is often spoken to us as children, which means we can be and do anything: explore space as an astronaut, score the winning touchdown as a professional athlete, or both.

For some, those aspirations fade and more realistic ones emerge, not for Luke Fortner.

“I am a graduate student. I have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, a master’s in aerospace engineering and an MBA, ”she said.

Humble: this is how many would describe Fortner.

This is certainly evident as he nonchalantly lists his many accomplishments during his six years at the University of Kentucky.

If you are a fan of British football, you know Fortner as the number 79, the tenacious offensive linesman. Since 2017 he has been a key member of the Wildcats’ dominant offensive line, affectionately known as the “Big Blue Wall”. And now he can add a pro athlete to that list as well. On Friday, Fortner heard his name being called by the Jacksonville Jaguars as the first pick in the third round of the NFL draft.

But he’s just as determined off the pitch as he is on the pitch.

When choosing where to attend college, the then 18-year-old from Sylvania, Ohio knew she needed a university that would support her lofty aspirations.

“When I visited the UK, I really fell in love at first sight.”

Fortner was immediately drawn to the Big Blue Nation, a welcoming community that would quickly become a second family.


The stakes are high when it comes to college football. But the stakes are just as high when pursuing a bachelor’s degree, let alone a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. It requires diligence to keep up with schoolwork and determination to stay focused on practice.

But when it comes to football and education, Fortner refuses to give up.

“It was tough,” he said. “There were a few semesters where I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.”

If time wasn’t already tough as he pursued his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Fortner was approached to work on an innovative project that intertwined both of his passions.

“Freddie Maggard began to describe how we could help children in need through both engineering and football – my interest was automatically piqued.”

Once again, Fortner took the opportunity. And at that moment a unique partnership was formed.

UK Athletics, UK College of Engineering, UK HealthCare and Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Kentucky (TMMK) have come together with a common purpose: to provide an award-winning chosen by Kentucky Children’s Hospital (KCH) with a life-changing experience through a mobility.

The challenge was to build a cart with all the exciting bells and whistles that would be safe even for a child battling a health condition. The team spent countless hours conducting research to assess the wants and needs of KCH awardees.

“Work has new meaning when it’s for something bigger than money or a company,” Fortner said in a previous interview. “When it’s for people who really need your help, it’s so much easier to get up every day.”

Through “Lift Them Up”, some of the younger fans were able to see their heroes in a personal setting.

On play days, Fortner pushed the cart out onto the field, allowing each child to escape the reality of his diagnosis and feel like a member of the team for a day.

“The ‘Lift Them Up’ project was incredible, but afterwards I felt I could do more. That’s why I started seeing children in the hospital, ”Fortner said. “The experience was rewarding for both me and the children.”


Fortner’s plan was going according to plan.

Then an unprecedented event happened: the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of many, including student-athletes.

When Fortner was granted another year of eligibility, it was the bright side after a disruptive year.

True to his character, Fortner did not enroll in a masters program. He aimed to become the first graduate of the newly launched aerospace engineering program in the UK, while also earning an MBA from Gatton College of Business and Economics.

The MBA program is designed for young professionals, recent graduates and emerging leaders in all academic majors. The program aims to help students discover their passions and position them for success in their future careers.

“Dr. Alexandre Martin took me under his wing. Similar to mechanical engineering, I dived into aerospace engineering and really fell in love with it. And you know, who doesn’t like to say, ‘I’m working on space-related research,’ “Fortner explained.” As for the MBA, I’m really glad I did, because I’m learning a lot and I love every second of it. “

“I have always been, and still am, impressed by how Luke was able to combine schoolwork, complex research and football. The work he has done has been thorough and will likely be used by many in the next few years, “said Martin.” It’s not often that a student ends up missing an opportunity to work at NASA because he’ll play in the NFL. But with Luke, who knows. , maybe he’ll end up doing a Ph.D. at the same time. “

In his sixth year, Fortner continued to carry out the ultimate balancing act, with grace and grit.

While proud of his achievements, Fortner admits he has a lot of support when it comes to achieving his goals. On and off the pitch, he has teammates: they serve as the basis for success. He give real meaning to the phrase “For the team”.

“You do your homework all night, then you wake up to go to practice and practice. It’s a difficult program to balance, “said Fortner.” I’m incredibly grateful to the coaching and academic staff. Everyone came together and made it possible. “


From NASA to the NFL – anything is possible. Ask Fortner.

He started his UK journey with chants from a roaring crowd at Kroger Field and will end it with cheers as he walks through the kick-off stage at Rupp Arena this Friday.

Fortner hopes to continue his time on the pitch by playing professional football.

But no matter where life takes him, perseverance – the ability to carry on in the face of adversity – is what Fortner says it will bring.

“For me, it’s just about being able to work hard every single day, wake up and know I’m lucky to be here. And every single day I’ve been here has been truly incredible, and I’m grateful to him. I am proud to call myself a wild cat. “

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