DRAFT: Fortt Headed to Crescent City
In contrast to his now future teammate – and one-time official visit host, back when he was 17 -- Cameron Jordan, brand-spanking new New Orleans Saints linebacker Khairi Fortt was speechless when he was told that he would be going to the Crescent City to play his pro football.
"I was home with a couple of my friends from high school, back in Stamford with my parents, hanging out, and I got a call from a Texas number," said the former California linebacker. "I knew the New Orleans Saints were up, and I thought it was probably Darren Ervin's father, or somebody from Texas. I picked up, and it was the defensive coordinator from the Saints. He said that they were going to pick me up, and they were going to draft me in 10 minutes. I really didn't know what to say."
Fortt was picked in the fourth round of the NFL Draft, with the 126th overall pick, by the 2009 Super Bowl champs.
"I'd been watching the first, second and third (rounds), all the way to the fourth today, and I didn't go in the first 20 picks, so I was a little down about it, but right now, I couldn't be happier," Fortt said. "I'm happy to finally get picked, and I just can't wait to get down to Louisiana and start working out with the team and starting to get to know the guys."
Fortt already knows Jordan from way back, when the former Bears defensive end hosted Fortt when he came on his recruiting visit to Berkeley back in 2009.
"He actually took me on my official visit when I went to Cal, so we actually know each other a little bit," Fortt said. "Back when I was 17, I was going to graduate high school early, [Jordan] and KP – Kendrick Payne – were my two hosts. They took me out and everything, and I liked Cal, but it was too far away from home. It's kind of ironic how we end up at the same place again, on the same team. We need to get some more Cal guys on the team, just to represent."
Fortt of course wound up choosing Penn State over Cal, but transferred to Berkeley following the scandal involving Jerry Sandusky and the ouster of legendary head coach Joe Paterno. After his first season at Cal, rehabbing a surgically-repaired knee, Fortt saw the head coach who recruited him from Happy Valley get ousted as well, as Jeff Tedford was shown the door after a 3-9 season in 2012.
[PRO DAY: Fortt Faces More Questions]
Fortt played for his third head coach in as many years last season with Sonny Dykes taking over, but as well as Fortt performed, he missed time to small injuries and had his work ethic questioned in the middle of the season, a challenge that he answered, tallying 64 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss half a sack and one QB hurry.
"You can never plan life," Fortt said. "You're always going to have adversity, and I thought going to Penn State was an experience. Everything was a learning experience. I learned from every second that I was at Penn State and at Cal – two different schemes, two different styles of play, a bunch of different coaches. Now, I feel like all those experiences have helped me be the man I am today. I get picked up by the Saints, and I'm just elated, now."
The Saints owned the NFL's fourth-best defense last season, allowing just 305.7 yards of total offense per game, while tallying the fourth-most sacks (49) in the league.
"You have guys there that are experienced, who I can learn from," Fortt said. "I'm going to play for a great defense and a great coach, for great coaches. Man, I'm just at a loss for words right now. I'm thinking about this call, I'm thinking about flying down to New Orleans, wearing those colors, man, it's crazy right now."
As Fortt spoke with the Cal media, he said he had "about 300 messages on my phone right now," and clearly had no shortage of well-wishers.
"I'm just trying to take this all in, right now," Fortt laughed. "It's been a great two years. It really has."
Fortt said that, coming from a family of educators, he plans on finishing his degree sooner rather than later, in American Studies, with a focus on diversity and representation.
"I have three classes left to graduate," Fortt said. "My mom, she's adamant – she went to Georgetown and Columbia and played basketball – she knows the grind, but she also knows the work it takes, and she told me that I would be naïve to think that football is a career. It's not. I could be done in three years, five years. Even if I were done in six years, that's a big term, but it's not the rest of your life. The degree is the thing that I'll have the rest of my life. I'm going to get my degree maybe next spring."
When he does get that degree, he has some big designs on how to use it, once football is over.
"With an American Studies major, you can kind of pull from every department – the social part, the science part, the mathematical part, if you can find some way to fit that in – but I'm just worrying about getting the degree, because I know the Berkeley degree can take me a long way," Fortt said. "I was talking to a couple guys, CEOs of corporations, and they just look for the Berkeley degree. When I get out, I was looking into doing real estate or getting into some land, back in California. Me and my roommate, Nick Forbes, we have some plans."
Before that comes along, though, he'll try to make the Saints squad in any way he can, and holds no illusions about where he'll be in the pecking order. It's more than likely that, with his natural speed and athleticism – but questions about his ability to read an offense – that he'll start out on special teams.
"Wherever I'm needed," Fortt said. "When you think about it, you go to college and you play football, and you do whatever you need to do to get on the field. It's like a job: You can be in college and get your degree in finance, but end up doing something with marketing and if you can make living doing marketing, you're not just say no. You need a job. You do what's expected of you. That's the same with me. I'll fit wherever I fit. If they want me to play running back, I'll carry the ball. I don't know how my knees will hold up, but I'll do it. I'll do whatever I have to do to help the team win."
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