Luke Fortner might not be a household Kentucky Football name like quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr., but Bowden’s historic 2019 season might have been different if Fortner hadn’t started 13 games on UK’s offensive line. Fortner, part of UK’s “Big Blue Wall,” helped Bowden Jr. become the first player in college football history with at least 1,400 rushing yards, 300 passing yards and 300 receiving yards in the same season. Even more impressive is that Fortner played to a such a high level while studying mechanical engineering. He was even named to the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll.
In addition to his football and academic activities, Fortner worked with Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky and other engineering students to design a specially built pushcart vehicle that would give a Kentucky Children’s Hospital patient the chance to both accompany the Wildcats on the Cat Walk and 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. The honor is given to Wildcats who have shown an extraordinary commitment to academic excellence, athletic participation, personal development, career preparation and serving as a role model.
Now a mechanical engineering graduate student at UK, Fortner is continuing his studies while at home in Sylvania, Ohio. We asked him how he’s adapting and how he’s staying busy.
How are things going for you right now? How has life changed since classes moved online and stay at home orders were put into effect? How is the team doing?
Life at the moment is interesting, to say the least. I returned home a couple of weeks ago. With online classes, there’s much more free time, with no shortage of work. In fact, the workload for school has seemed to pick up. Working out for football is one of the hardest things to do, especially without gym equipment at home. Self-motivation is a key piece of the puzzle for me now. The team, in general, seems to be doing well. We continue to have team meetings as well as position meetings and the common theme seems to be that we are in a time right now where events are occurring that transcend football—events that require us to lead, not on the football field, but in the community.
What is it like for you as a graduate student right now?
Being a graduate student right now is certainly a challenge. Personally, I’m lucky when it comes to research, as my research is conducted computationally, rather than experimentally. However, there are many challenges to be addressed. As I write this, one of my mentors is in his dissertation defense via Zoom. This event already holds an extreme degree of difficulty, and it’s magnified by the current events. In regard to studying and homework, the load seems to have increased significantly, while the level of distraction outside of a lab or office has followed suit. As someone who did well with relatively low effort in high school, my parents are dumbfounded by the time and effort I have put into my studies and are convinced I’ve been playing video games on my computer the whole time.
Have you been able to maintain a connection with the Children’s Hospital since the Lift Them Up project?
I used to do weekly visits to the Children’s Hospital. It’s something I really enjoyed doing. Obviously, that came to a halt about a month ago. Instead, my roommate, Max Duffy, and I receive questions from some of the patients in the hospital, and we respond in video format. We have received questions ranging from football, such as “How does it feel to tackle someone?” and “How excited do you get walking onto Kroger Field?” to questions about life in general, “Do you have a doggie?” and “What do you want to do after football?” Hopefully, we provide a bit of enjoyment to some of the kids going through tougher times than us. The hospital recently informed us that we will be able to start conducting “live” visits over Zoom, so that will be a bit more interactive and hopefully better for the patients.
How is your family – what has been the biggest impact for your family right now?
My family is doing well. My mother is a teacher and my father works for an essential company, so thankfully they both still have a job. I know many people who are not so fortunate, and my heart goes out to them. As of now, thankfully, the biggest impact has only been staying away from our older relatives and our friends.
How are you and your friends staying in touch right now?
I recently had a video interview with Drake Jackson, Landon Young, and our coach John Schlarman, so we’ve kept in touch through video conferencing and the like. Lots of texting (even more than usual). The other day my friends from home and I drove by our friend’s house who had a birthday, blasting music and singing happy birthday. In this day and age, keeping up with friends is definitely one of the easier challenges to overcome.
What has been the best part of this unusual season?
I think there is a lot of good to come out of this time. I have clearly been much more fortunate than others, and I’m thankful for that. I have gotten to spend more time with my family than I have in the past four years, and this time has allowed me to appreciate some activities I always took for granted. I hope that the norm returns soon, and I feel for people impacted heavily by this virus. I urge everyone to do their best in staying positive and looking to help those who need it.