Gatton on the Gridiron: 4 UK Football Players Pursuing Master’s Degrees

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 UK Football team fights to clench 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.”

Overcoming obstacles and exceeding 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.

Wilson, Luke Fortner (center) and Matthew Ruffolo (kicker) are part of the One Year MBA program, while Will Levis (quarterback) is working toward a Master’s of Science in Finance (MSF).

The One Year 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 program 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,” said Fortner, who is also pursuing a master’s degree from the College of Engineering.

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 towards 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 supportive 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.”