Former Cat Fortner knows second NFL season will be ‘way different’

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2023

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A year ago, Luke Fortner had just become a third-round NFL Draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars and had no idea what his professional career might be like.

He had debated returning to Kentucky for another season and moved from guard to center for the 10-win 2021 season.

His rookie season went even better than he could have imagined. He started 17 games and the Jaguars made the playoffs and won a game before losing to Kansas City.

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Now he’s preparing for his second NFL season and admits it will be “way different” for him.

“Obviously, it will be nice to walk into the building and not be shaking hands for the first time with everybody. It will be a little more comfortable, and I will know what to expect and who almost everybody is,” said Fortner. “Last year, I was always guessing if I was doing enough or should I be doing more. Or maybe even doing less. Now I have a feel for what it takes.

Last year’s 9-8 finish and division championship has been both a “gift and curse” for the team.

“It’s exciting to see more fans out wearing Jags gear. They are just excited, and we have more season ticket holders. Last year was kind of a transformation year and we plan to keep it going.”

Fortner said the easiest part of his NFL transition was not being overwhelmed by the daily grind of practice, film study and training workouts because he didn’t have any classes or homework to worry about.

“But the hardest part is not only do you have more games, but if you make the postseason you have even more games. That was the hardest thing,” Fortner said. “Most days are not too bad. You get in there about 8 and leave about 4. It’s not super late nights or real early mornings. Usually, you get Tuesday off but most players are still there in the weight room or the film room.”

One change in the film room was that instead of focusing mainly on opponents as he did at Kentucky, he focused more on what the Jags were doing on offense during film study last season.

Fortner was reunited with former UK teammate Josh Allen at Jacksonville. Allen was the 2018 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and seventh overall pick in the 2019 draft by Jacksonville. He was a Pro Bowl selection at linebacker his rookie year and had 185 tackles in 57 games the last four years.

“There are so many parallels here to Kentucky and watching him lead and take over the team,” Fortner said. “I had seen him do it once before, so I was not surprised. He is still just a little kid in a big kid’s body. He’s an awesome guy and has not changed one bit other than he has three kids now.”

Fortner also got to play with former Wildcat Corey Peters last season. Peters was an all-SEC defensive lineman in 2010 and was the 83rd overall pick in the 2010 draft. He recently announced his retirement after playing last season with Jacksonville.

“He is such a great guy. He was always reminiscing about Kentucky. It was something to see a guy who had played so long but basically stayed healthy and had a great career,” Fortner said. “He kind of mentored me a little bit about being in the league and what it takes. He played some really good minutes for us and was just a great teammate for me to have.”
Fortner spent offseason time in Lexington and doesn’t think he has changed much from the time he left UK until now even with the NFL success he had.

“I like to think I am about the same person. Definitely have a little more perspective on life, but really I am just the same guy I was at Kentucky. I just happen to play in the NFL now,” Fortner said.