Fortner Named Wuerffel Trophy Semifinalist
University of Kentucky senior offensive guard Luke Fortner has been named one of the nine semifinalists for The 2020 Wuerffel Trophy, known as “College Football’s Premier Award for Community Service.” Named after 1996 Heisman Trophy-winning-quarterback Danny Wuerffel from the University of Florida, the Wuerffel Trophy is awarded to the college football players who serve others, celebrate their positive impact on society, and inspire greater service in the world. The award has honored over 1,300 nominees since its inception in 2005.
Fortner, of Sylvania, Ohio, graduated in December of 2019 with a degree in mechanical engineering and is currently working on a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. 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 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
The 2020 Wuerffel Trophy semifinalists are:
Shai Werts, Georgia Southern University, senior, quarterback
Michael Saffell, University of California, senior, offensive line
Luke Fortner, University of Kentucky, senior, offensive line
Brady White, University of Memphis, senior, quarterback
Mac Brown, University of Mississippi, senior, punter
Teton Saltes, University of New Mexico, senior, offensive line
Tyriq Harris, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, senior, defensive back
Sam Ehlinger, University of Texas, senior, quarterback
Mike Caliendo, Western Michigan University, senior, offensive line
Nominations for the Wuerffel Trophy are made by the respective universities’ Sports Information Departments and closed on November 2. The three 2020 Wuerffel Trophy finalists are scheduled to be announced on December 22.
Voting for the Wuerffel Trophy is performed by a national selection committee that includes college football television and print media, industry notables, former head coaches and prior Wuerffel Trophy recipients.
The formal announcement of the 2020 recipient is anticipated to be made the week of December 26 – January 2. The 2020 recipient will be featured on The Home Depot/ESPN College Football Awards Show on January 7, 2021 airing from 7:00pm-8:30pm EST.
The presentation of the 2020 Wuerffel Trophy is scheduled to occur at the 52nd All Sports Association Awards Banquet on February 20, 2021 in Niceville, Fla.
Past recipients of the award are: Rudy Niswanger – LSU – 2005; Joel Penton – Ohio State – 2006; Paul Smith – Tulsa – 2007; Tim Tebow – Florida – 2008; Tim Hiller – Western Michigan – 2009; Sam Acho – Texas – 2010; Barrett Jones – Alabama – 2011; Matt Barkley – USC – 2012; Gabe Ikard – Oklahoma – 2013; Deterrian Shackelford – Ole Miss – 2014; Ty Darlington – Oklahoma – 2015; Trevor Knight – Texas A&M – 2016; Courtney Love – Kentucky; 2017; Drue Tranquill – Notre Dame; 2018; Jon Wassink – Western Michigan – 2019.
The Wuerffel Trophy is presented by Chick-fil-A and is also supported by its corporate partners Dart Container Corporation/Solo Cup and Herff Jones.
The Wuerffel Trophy is a member of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA), which encompasses the most prestigious awards in college football. Founded in 1997, the NCFAA and its 25 awards now boast more than 800 recipients, dating back to 1935. Visit www.ncfaa.org to learn more about the association.