Tanor Bortolini: Indianapolis Colts Rookie Files

Growing up in Packers Country, Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini will now realize his dream of playing in the NFL.
Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini (63) against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the 2022 Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field.
Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini (63) against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the 2022 Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field. / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There are areas across the country where football means more.

Kids grow up in these areas dreaming of strapping on the pads. From playing for their hometown team in high school to getting the opportunity to suit up for the college powerhouse, the dream is a part of the culture for these young men.

While these dreams are had by many, few realize them. It takes a special talent to achieve these heights and a talent combined with an incredible work ethic.

This is "Rookie Files," a series on Horseshoe Huddle that gives you the backstory of every rookie for the Indianapolis Colts. Going player by player, we look at their journeys to the NFL and what makes each unique while also detailing how they help the Colts. Next up, Tanor Bortolini, whose upbringing in the heart of Wisconsin set him on a path to playing for the Badgers and making it to the NFL.

Growing Up in Packers Country

Football player Tanor Bortolini in a white jersey tackles another player in a black jersey.
Kewaunee's Tanor Bortolini (50) attempts a tackle on the play. / Tina M. Gohr/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Bortolini was born on June 18, 2002, in Kewaunee, Wis., to Scott and Teresa Bortolini. The oldest of three children, Bortolini grew up loving the outdoors. He spent his time camping, hunting, and fishing with family and friends.

But while he loved outdoor activities, football became a passion of Bortolini's from a very young age. Kewaunee is a small town about 30 miles east of Green Bay, in the heart of Packers Country. The family were huge Packers fans, and Bortolini wanted to play the game his family loved as soon as he could. From the moment he put on his pads for his first pee-wee game, Bortolini was hooked.

Bortolini loved football so much that he became obsessed with getting better. He practiced and played every chance he got with whichever family member was available. Bortolini wanted to be a great tight end like Jack Novak and Colin Cochart, the other residents from Kewaunee who made it to the NFL.

As Bortolini grew older, his size forced him to play other positions besides tight end. Bortolini enrolled at Kewaunee High School, the same school his mother held the scoring record in basketball, and started at left tackle as a freshman. While it was not tight end, simply playing for his hometown team fueled Bortolini to dream further than just the Friday Night Lights.

“He’s like, ‘Mom, It’s so awesome. I want to play on Saturdays,’" Teresa said, remembering what her son told her after his first high school football game. "His mentality has always been (he’s) going to work, put the time in, and if it comes to fruition…I’m super excited.”

After starting at left tackle as a freshman, Kewaunee coaches believed Bortolini could also help on the other side of the ball. Bortolini began playing defensive tackle as a sophomore and became a two-way player.

As a junior, Bortolini posted 69 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble returned for a touchdown on the way to winning conference Player of the Year on the offensive and defensive lines. His senior year was even better, racking up 76 tackles and 16.0 tackles for loss to earn conference Defensive Player of the Year yet again. Bortolini was also named first-team All-State at left tackle.

Bortolini's success was not only limited to the gridiron. As a senior, he averaged 13.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game for Kewaunee's basketball team. Bortolini was also on the track team, placing fourth in the shot put at the Division II state championships as a junior.

Bortolini had proven he was an all-around athlete and maybe the best athlete in the city. But to play college football, he could not just be the best in Kewaunee. He would have to be one of the best in the country.

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Playing on Saturdays

Football players Tanor Bortolini and Braelon Allen embrace after a touchdown in red jerseys.
Wisconsin offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini (63) and Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen (0) celebrate after Allen's first-quarter touchdown run against Maryland. / Tork Mason / USA TODAY NETWORK

Although Bortolini was the best player for Kewaunee, his recruiting for the next level got off to a slow start. The dream of playing football on Saturdays was alive, but the programs needed to come calling.

Bortolini was first noticed at a University of Wisconsin camp. He performed well at the camp, but at only 240 pounds, his size was a concern for some coaches. Bortolini would need to bulk up if he wanted a shot at Division I football.

The day after the Wisconsin camp, Bortolini attended another camp, this time at the University of Iowa. Bortolini faced a huge test at the camp, going up against three-star pass-rushing prospect and Iowa commit Jake Karchinski. But Bortolini held his own and impressed coaches so much that they decided to show him around the facilities despite his size.

The Wisconsin and Iowa camps laid out a path for Bortolini to play at the highest levels of college football. If he could put on the weight and muscle needed to compete at the next level, his dream would be there for the taking.

Throughout his breakout junior season, Bortolini added 35 pounds, bulking him to 275. A new diet and workout regimen were key, as Bortolini's new body helped bring more success on the field and more attention on the recruiting trail.

Bortolini had shot up the rankings and was considered a three-star recruit. He was the No.64 guard prospect in the nation for the class of 2020 and the No.8 recruit in Wisconsin. By spring of 2019, offers had come in from Syracuse and North Dakota State. But he was still waiting on one from the Badgers.

When the Wisconsin coaching staff found out about Bortoloni's new-found size, they remembered the potential he had shown at their camp. It was enough for Wisconsin to extend an offer to Bortolini despite already having four offensive line commits in the 2020 class.

Wisconsin had been Bortolini's dream school for as long as he could remember. But was it the smartest move to go to a school with four other offensive line recruits in the same class? When you are as competitive as Bortolini, it does not matter.

"Mom, I just need a chance," Bortolini told Teresa when pondering the decision.

Iowa and Miami (FL) also offered, but the decision was made. Bortolini was heading to Madison, determined to become the next great offensive lineman from Wisconsin.

From Saturdays to Sundays

Football player Tanor Bortolini gets ready to block in a white jersey.
Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini (63) against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the 2022 Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field. / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Bortolini arrived at Wisconsin with a mission to be a crucial part of the program's success. The standard of play in the offensive line room is different in Madison, and Bortolini recognized it right away.

"I think it's just the culture that's been instilled throughout each generation of linemen that's come through (Wisconsin)," Bortolini remarked. "You look back at that wall (in the offensive line room) and there's really great players that have been coming out of there for the past 40 years. So just to be a part of that for one is huge. I take great pride in that."

Bortolini redshirted his freshman year, only seeing the field in two games during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. His tenure with the Badgers really got started in 2021, as Bortolini played in 10 games with starts in five. Bortolini started games at right tackle, left guard, and even tight end, showing his versatility.

Bortolini came into his own as a junior, becoming a full-time starter on the offensive line and one of the leaders on the team. He started 10 of his 11 contests (seven left guard, three right guard) on the way to an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten season.

Heading into his senior year, Wisconsin needed Bortolini to switch to center full-time. For Bortolini, who had learned center as a way to know what everyone else was doing on the line, it was an easy transition.

Bortolini started all 12 games at center in 2023, culminating with another Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honor. He also earned Academic All-Big Ten honors for the third consecutive season. Like the great linemen before him, Bortolini left his mark on the Badgers' program.

After accomplishing playing on Saturdays at Wisconsin, Bortolini now set his sights on a goal that once seemed like an unattainable dream: Playing on Sundays in the NFL. Bortolini accepted an invite to the Reese's Senior Bowl, impressing coaches and scouts against some of the best talent in the 2024 draft class. It was just the start of a great pre-draft process.

After the Senior Bowl, Bortolini showed his fantastic athleticism (9.77 RAS) at the NFL Scouting Combine. He ran a 4.94 40-yard dash at 6-4 and 303 pounds while also breaking the record for the fastest 3-cone drill (7.16 sec) by a center, previously held by future Hall of Famer Jason Kelce.

It was an impressive showing that caught the eye of Colts' offensive line coach Tony Sparano Jr. Bortolini's athleticism combined with high-level intelligence was an enticing combination for Sparano.

Despite pounding the table and getting Matt Goncalves a round earlier, Sparano pushed for Bortolini in the fourth round. It did not take much convincing for Chris Ballard to add another talent to the offensive line, and an offensive lineman at that.

"It was really great talking to (Ballard)," Bortolini said after he was drafted. "He just said, 'Excited to have you on board. Wisconsin breeds great lineman, everyone had great things to say about you, and we couldn't be more excited to have you be a part of this franchise.' And I'm really excited to be a part of it."

How Bortolini Helps the Colts

Football player Tanor Bortolini, in a red jersey, blocks another player in a white jersey.
Wisconsin offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini (63) blocks Rutgers defensive lineman Mayan Ahanotu (92) during the second quarter of their game at Camp Randall Stadium. / Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Bortolini is the first offensive lineman from Wisconsin that Ballard, who played at Wisconsin, has drafted in his tenure as general manager. The Colts hope they found the next great Wisconsin offensive lineman with their fourth-round pick.

Bortolini is an incredibly versatile lineman, logging starts at five different positions for the Badgers. No matter what position, Bortolini was technically refined and would hardly get out of position. He is a fluid athlete who can anchor against power rushers and get out in space to move defenders out of the play.

Sparano will now have the opportunity to mold Bortolini into a vital member of the Colts' offensive line. Not only will Bortolini get the chance to learn from Sparano, but he can lean on Pro Bowlers Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly as mentors.

The Colts view Bortolini as having the potential to be a long-term starter on the offensive line. Bortolini will likely start as a depth piece at both guard and center. With Kelly and Will Fries in the final year of their deals, Bortolini could end up a starter in Indy as early as 2025. Until then, the Wisconsin product is ready to contribute wherever needed and contribute at a high level.

"Whatever they see for the long-term plan for me, I'm more than excited to be a part of (it)," Bortolini admitted. "And I think I can really be a guy that finds a lot of long-term success and can really solidify myself in one of those starting jobs that I can do it and do it at a high level."

While he will not be wearing Packers green and gold anytime soon, Bortolini and his family have already switched to Colts blue and white. With any luck, Bortolini will become the next great Wisconsin offensive lineman in the NFL. If that occurs, the long-term success in Indy is sure to follow.

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Andrew Moore


Andrew Moore is the Senior Analyst for Horseshoe Huddle and an Indianapolis Colts expert. Andrew is also the co-host of the Horseshoe Huddle Podcast and the former co-host of A Colts Podcast.