By Susan Lax, UK Athletics
University of Kentucky senior offensive guard Luke Fortner has been named a candidate for the 2020 William V. Campbell Trophy which recognizes an individual as the absolute best in the country for his academic success, football performance and exemplary leadership.
Fortner, of Sylvania, Ohio, has been a standout in all three categories throughout his Wildcat career. In the classroom, he graduated in December of 2019 with a degree in mechanical engineering and is currently working on a master's degree in mechanical engineering. He is on track to graduate with his master's degree in December of 2020. He's a three-time member of the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll and has three times been named to the Dean's List. In 2019, Fortner was inducted into the school's Frank G. Ham Society of Character which honors Wildcats who have shown an extraordinary commitment to academic excellence, athletic participation, personal development, career preparation and serving as a role model.
Fortner put his degree to good use last fall when he, along with other UK engineering students, played a significant role in helping a team of Toyota Manufacturing engineers design, test and manufacture a specially-built push cart vehicle through a project called "Lift Them Up." The push cart vehicle provides a Kentucky Children's Hospital patient the chance to both accompany the Wildcats on the Cat Walk and attend a game at Kroger Field.
Because of his experience with project "Lift Them Up," Fortner was compelled to continue making an impact at the Kentucky Children's Hospital. He began visiting the kids in September of 2019 as part of the "Tuesdays with the Wildcats" program, created by former Wildcat C.J. Conrad in 2018.
When COVID19 hit, Fortner didn't want to stop interaction with the kids so, along with teammate Max Duffy, they asked what they could do. With the help of the Child Life team at the Kentucky Children's Hospital, they set up a program called "In the Huddle with KCH." For eight weeks, Fortner and Duffy taped a video of themselves answering questions from kids who submitted through the Kentucky Children's Hospital Facebook Page. The video was then posted back to the KCH Facebook page every Tuesday morning to replace what would have been their in-person visit.
- This opportunity was open to all Wildcat fans, not just KCH patients. During a difficult time for our nation, Fortner and Duffy provided a fun time for young fans to forget about the virus for even a short time to share a smile.
- Questions ranged from why they got into football, why they chose UK and what their favorite football memory is to performing their favorite dance and naming their favorite Disney princess.
- Questions were submitted from all around the state as well as submissions from Wildcat fans in Las Vegas and Columbus, Ohio.
In addition to "In the Huddle with KCH," Fortner and his teammates got creative in how they could continue their weekly visits with KCH patients. Each week, Fortner spends 1-1.5 hours on Zoom calls with patients who are currently "in-patient" at KCH. They discuss football, favorite hobbies, favorite color, etc. Patients are able to ask the players questions about anything and everything. Fortner and his teammates always offer up words of encouragement. Zoom calls are intimate because it's just one patient with Fortner and his teammates for about 7-10 minutes each so the focus is all on one patient at a time.
More of Fortner's community service projects:
- Volunteered with other engineering students at UK's 2020 "Engineers Day" to celebrate engineering and showcase the "Lift Them Up" cart
- Volunteer at Urban Impact at the Woodhill Community Center, an organization that strives to enable youth to grow, succeed and lead
- Volunteer reader at Athens-Chilesburg Elementary
- Volunteer for Read Across America at Fayette County public schools
- Volunteered with Habitat for Humanity
On the field, Fortner has been an integral part of the "Big Blue Wall" during his three seasons, playing in 32 career games with 13 starting assignments.
In 2019 at right guard, he totaled 27 knockdown blocks, no missed assignments, allowed only one sack, and had just one penalty in 646 plays. He also was a key cog in helping four Wildcats rush for at least 500 yards, only the second time in school history that has happened, also 1976. Lynn Bowden Jr., the Paul Hornung Award winner, 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.
Named in honor of the late William V. Campbell, the former chairman of Intuit, former player and head coach at Columbia University and the 2004 recipient of the NFF's Gold Medal, The William V. Campbell Trophy® Presented by Mazda has become the most prestigious and desirable "academic" award in college football.
Criteria and Selection Process
Nominated by their schools, which are limited to one nominee each, candidates must be:
* A senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility;
* Have a grade point average of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale;
* Have outstanding football ability as a first team player; and
* Have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.
Selected by the NFF Awards Committee in October, the finalists and the winner are all honored at the NFF Annual Awards Dinner Presented by ETT in December at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York City. Each finalist receives an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship as a member of the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Class Presented by Fidelity Investments. During the event, one member of the class is selected as the recipient of the Campbell Trophy® presented by Mazda as the best football scholar-athlete in the nation and has his postgraduate scholarship increased to a total of $25,000. The award comes with a 25-pound bronze trophy.
Following the NFF Annual Awards Dinner, the recipient of the Campbell Trophy® Presented by Mazda is honored at several prestigious events. On the Wednesday following the Dinner, the New York Athletic Club (NYAC), the official home of the trophy, hosts a luncheon in his honor. From there, he heads directly to Atlanta for ESPN's "The Home Depot College Football Awards" at the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame on Thursday, where he is interviewed live during the show. Finally, he is honored on the field during the College Football Playoff National Championship in January.