Football

Three Wildcats To Play Saturday in Reese’s Senior Bowl

by Susan Lax

Kentucky football boasts three players in the 71st annual Reese’s Senior Bowl Saturday, Feb. 5. Senior safety Yusuf Corker, senior offensive tackle Darian Kinnard and senior center Luke Fortner will suit up for the American team at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. Senior defensive end Josh Paschal accepted an invitation but will not play in the game.
 
The Reese’s Senior Bowl has long been the nation’s most prestigious college all-star game because it is the only one coached by entire staffs from two National Football League clubs. This year’s game has been assigned to the coaching staffs of the Carolina Panthers and the Miami Dolphins.
 
The three Wildcats are the most representatives at the Reese’s Senior Bowl since three played in 2018 (Mike Edwards, Lonnie Johnson Jr. and Darius West). UK now has 46 all-time members, 14 coming in the Mark Stoops era.
 
Corker, a 6-0, 204-pounder from McDonough, Georgia, played in 50 career games with 37 straight starting nods for the Wildcats. He totaled 240 career tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 14 pass breakups, three interceptions, two quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
 
Corker’s leadership, demeanor and blue-collar work ethic as a two-time team captain were invaluable to the Wildcats’ success on the field. With Corker’s help, Kentucky won a school-record four straight bowl games, including the 2022 Vrbo Citrus Bowl over Iowa. The Lott IMPACT Trophy semifinalist finished the 2021 season ranking third on the team in total tackles with 81, including 3.5 tackles for loss. He added sack, an interception, a quarterback hurry and a team-high eight pass breakups.
 
Off the field, Corker graduated in May 2021 with a degree in economics. He was named to the Dean’s List and the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll in 2020 and was a volunteer in several community service projects throughout his career.
 
Fortner, a 6-foot-6, 297-pound “super senior” from Sylvania, Ohio, was a two-time Campbell Trophy semifinalist who played in 54 career games for Kentucky. After switching from right guard to center prior to the season, Fortner found his niche, excelling in his new role on the “Big Blue Wall.” He graded at 84.5 percent for the 2021 season, including 19 knockdown blocks.

During his six seasons with the Wildcats, UK posted a 45-29 record and advanced to a school-record six straight bowl games, highlighted by winning the last four in a row, another school record.

Fortner graduated in December of 2019 with a degree in mechanical engineering and has been working on a master’s degree in the same field. While working on his master’s in mechanical engineering, he also began working on a second master’s degree in business administration from UK’s prestigious Gatton College of Business and Economics. He is on track to graduate with both his mechanical engineering degree and his MBA in 2022. Fortner is a five-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll and was named Second-Team CoSIDA Academic All-American.
 
Kinnard, a 6-foot-5, 338-pound mountain from Knoxville, Tennessee, led the team this season at the right tackle position. Pro Football Focus evaluated Kinnard as one of only three Power Five tackles to grade at 85 or better as both a run and pass blocker.
 
He was named a consensus first-team All-American, earning first-team honors from Football Writers Association of America, Walter Camp and the Associated Press. He was a second-team All-American by The Sporting News. Kinnard was awarded the SEC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy, just the second Kentucky player to win the award, which annually has been given to the SEC’s top blocker since 1935. He also was a semifinalist for both the 2021 Rotary Lombardi Award, given to an offensive or defensive lineman who combines outstanding performance on the field with the character and discipline of NFL Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi, and the Outland Trophy, given to the nation’s most outstanding interior lineman.
 
The Reese’s Senior Bowl is the nation’s most prestigious college all-star game, as it annually serves as the first step of the NFL Draft process. The Reese’s Senior Bowl had 106 total players drafted and 36 selected in the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft. The 106 figure represents 41% of the NFL Draft. 
 
Tickets for the Senior Bowl are on sale at 888.736.2695 or online at seniorbowl.com.
 

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