Campus Corner

Former Kansas linebacker Joe Mortensen gets a kiss of reality television


The Kansas City Star

If you’ve stumbled upon the new reality show “Fourth and Loud” in the last few weeks, you are not imagining things. Yes, that’s former Kansas linebacker Joe Mortensen, playing for the LA KISS of the Arena Football League. Yes, that’s Mortensen, former Orange Bowl hero-turned-reality television character.

The show, which premiered on Aug. 12 on AMC, chronicles the inaugural year of the Los Angeles KISS, an Arena Football League team owned by former KISS members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.

“It was definitely an experience,” said Mortensen, who finished his Kansas career in 2008 after helping Kansas to back-to-back bowl victories.

In the years since his college career ended, Mortensen has bounced around all levels of professional football. He had a short stint with the Buffalo Bills. He played in the now defunct United Football League. He eventually landed in the turbo-charged arena version of the sport.

But before he arrived at a mini-camp last January, he had no idea football was about to make him a television star.

“The cameras were everywhere,” Mortensen says. “They basically said they were going to do a reality show on AMC; I’m a big fan of ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Walking Dead,’ so I thought that was pretty crazy.”

Mortensen has always been a natural in front of a microphone or camera. Standing 6-feet tall with a bald head and a dark beard, Mortensen was the kind of gritty college linebacker who would blow up a quarterback during the game, then smile and offer an entertaining story about it after the game. So perhaps it was no surprise when the show’s producers selected Mortensen as one of the main players to follow during the season.

Mortensen, 28, suspects it was also his family life. After college, Mortensen married a Topeka girl, Erin Guzman, and the couple has a 4-year-old daughter. During the filming of the show, the cameras would follow Mortensen home, showing the other side of football life.

“They liked the kind of character I was,” Mortensen says.

On the whole, Mortensen enjoyed the experience. The LA KISS finished just 3-15 during the season, leading to plenty of drama for the show, and Mortensen won the job as a starting fullback before fracturing his ankle during the season.

In the days since the first episodes have aired, Mortensen says he’s opened his Facebook account to find “two- or three-hundred” friend requests from people he’s never met.

“It’s kind of a little bit shocking,” Mortensen says. “During the season, it was definitely crazy, because you kind of forget the cameras are always around. You watch the show, and there’s a lot of cussing and bleeping. But I thought it was fun.”

After a taste of television, Mortensen figures he has one year of football left. His body is breaking down, he says, but he would like to finish his career on a high note.

“I still have the passion,” Mortensen said. “But I want to coach college football.”

Soon enough, he says, he’d like to be a graduate assistant somewhere. If that’s Kansas, that would be all the better.