LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 23, 2021) — From every block and tackle to pass and touchdown, you’ve cheered them on.
As a Wildcat fan, you’ve applauded and chanted along with the roaring crowd at Kroger Field as the University of Kentucky football team fights to clinch another victory.
Their accomplishments on the field don’t go unnoticed. But what about off the field? Their successes in the classroom don’t often make the highlight reel.
“I like seeing the look on people’s faces, because obviously, there’s the stereotype of, ‘you’re just a football player,’” Quintin Wilson, center for UK Football, said. “And we really want to take advantage of every opportunity that UK gives us and being part of this program is just another one of those opportunities.”
Overcome obstacles and exceed expectations — that’s what Wilson hopes to do as an athlete and as a student.
And he’s not alone.
Wilson is one of four football players pursuing a master’s degree in the Gatton College of Business and Economics.
The MBA program is designed for young professionals, recent graduates and emerging leaders across all academic majors. The program aims to help students discover their passions and position them for success in their future careers.
The MSF prepares students for a professional career in the finance and banking industries. The science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program focuses on analytics and data science related skills in courses through Python, Tableau and more.
“When I got the extra year because of COVID, I thought it would be a great idea, and it’s all worked out really well,” Fortner, who is also pursuing a master’s degree from the College of Engineering, said.
It's the silver lining after an unprecedented year. But that doesn’t mean balancing life as a student-athlete comes easy.
The stakes are high when it comes to college football. But the stakes are just as high when pursuing a master’s degree. It requires diligence to keep up with schoolwork and determination to stay focused at practice.
“Obviously in grad school, you have to do more work than in undergrad, but the program here at UK is great, and they work with us whenever we need help,” Ruffolo said.
“It’s difficult to be pursuing a degree at a high level, and it’s also difficult to be playing football at a high level,” Levis added. “I think it’s good for others to see and think, ‘if they can do it, why can’t I do it too — if not better.’”
And while the payoff isn’t as immediate as a win under the bright lights on a Saturday night, Fortner, Levis, Ruffolo and Wilson are interested in playing the long game.
“So far, I think the leadership and management skills that I’ve learned will help me no matter if I’m in a management role or working toward a management role,” Ruffolo said.
“Ultimately, I’d love to be my own boss one day,” Wilson added. “And I think this gives you the groundwork to help you become successful.”
Though he is proud of his accomplishments, Wilson admits he has a lot of support when it comes to reaching his goals. On and off the field, he has teammates — they serve as his foundation for success.
“The most challenging part is definitely to balance when to focus on football and when to focus on school,” Wilson explained. “You feel like you’re getting pulled in all angles sometimes, but everyone is supportive. Whenever I do struggle, they are willing to pick me up and help me out.”
Bringing true meaning to the phrase — “For the Team.”
“We all have a common goal to do well in the classroom and to win games. And we have a support system both in the classroom and on the field,” Fortner said. “To be able to lean on each other when things get a little tougher is really big for us.”
“I think the most rewarding part is probably going to be at the end of this when you get to tack on the three letters at the end of your name on the resume,” Ruffolo added. “Obviously, it’s a lot of work, but football doesn’t last forever. I think school is really important. Getting this graduate degree is going to help us when we don’t have football anymore.”’
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.