Former Stamford Black Knights’ football star Khairi Fortt received the phone call he’d been waiting for on Saturday, but when the big moment finally came, he wasn’t sure how to respond.
“I was at home with a couple of my friends from high school back in Stamford with my parents (Tabitha and Guy) as well,” Fortt said. “We were just hanging out and I got a call from Texas. I knew the New Orleans Saints were up so I thought it was probably like (Cal teammate) Darren Ervin’s father from Cal. I picked up and it was the defensive coordinator of the Saints. He said that they were going to pick me up in about 10 minutes. He said congratulations. I really didn’t know what to say.”
Fortt, a 6-2, 248-pound linebacker from the University of California Golden Bears, was selected by New Orleans in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, going with the 126th pick overall.
Fortt played one season at Cal in 2013 after transferring from Penn State in 2011 after playing two seasons with the Nittany Lions.
“Right now I just couldn’t be happier,” Fortt said. “I’m just happy I finally got picked, and I can’t wait to get down to Louisiana and start working out with the team and getting to know the guys.”
Fortt was one of 12 national semifinalists for the 2013 Butkus Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top linebackers at the high school, collegiate and professional levels.
Fortt had started the first nine games of the 2013 season before missing the final three games of the campaign due to injury. He recorded 64 tackles to rank third on the team after leading the squad for most of the season. He was 18th in the Pac-12 with an average of 7.1 tackles per game, and added 3.5 tackles for loss (-5 yards) and 0.5 sacks (-1 yard) as a senior.
In his two seasons at Penn State, Fortt played in 22 contests and compiled career totals of 50 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss (-23 yards) and 2.5 sacks (-16 yards).
Fortt will be joining a strong defense at New Orleans and is looking forward to the challenge, and he’ll have a fellow California alum there in Cam Jordan, a defensive end with the Saints since 2011.
“It’s going to be great, because you have guys there that have experience that I can learn from,” Fortt said. “Having another Cal player there in Cam Jordan and he actually took me on my official visit at Cal, so we kind of know each other a little bit. Going to play for a great defense and great coaches, I’m so lost for words right now. I’m still trying to process everything. I’m thinking about this call. I’m thinking about flying down there. I’m thinking about playing, wearing those colors. It’s crazy right now.
“This kind of came out of left field. I don’t know if anybody has seen Draft Day and the inside scoop, but it does get a little bit crazy in how they kind of leak plays in and try not to say a lot about players so people don’t grab them. After the combine they didn’t have any contact with me or my agent about anything.”
Just six picks after Fortt was selected, Norwalk native Kevin Pierre-Louis, a linebacker who played for King School in Stamford and went to Boston College, was chosen by the Seattle Seahawks with the 132nd pick overall.
“I wasn’t watching it because I was in the moment and so excited about everything (with my draft), but my parents came outside and said that Kevin got picked up. I thought that was crazy to have both of us linebackers from Connecticut that we both go around the same time to great organizations. It’s just a blessing from God that we get these opportunities. I know we’re both going to work hard and represent Stamford, Connecticut, the little town that we are. I just can’t wait.”
As for his role with the Saints, Fortt said he’d do “whatever they need.”
“This is like a job. You can be in college and get your degree in finance but end up doing just marketing. You’re not just going to say no. You just do your job and do what’s expected of you. I’m going to do that. I’m going to fit in wherever I need to fit. If they want me to play running back I’ll go carry the ball. I don’t know how my knees will hold up but I’ll do anything they want me to do to help the team out.
With the draft behind him, Fortt is focused on wrapping up his college degree, an important accomplishment for his future.
“I have three classes left to graduate and my mom is adamant,” Fortt said. “Of course she’s adamant, she went to Georgetown and Columbia. She played basketball in college so she knows the grind, but she also knows the work it takes. She told me that I would be naive to think that football is a career, because it’s not. I could be done in three years, five years, you could be done in six years and that’s a good term but it’s not the rest of your life. That degree you’re going to have for the rest of your life, so I’m going back to get my degree maybe next spring or through the NFL CEP program, which is a new program that the NFL has in regards to graduating and finishing up school.”