He has been studied and examined, physically and mentally, for the past three months.
At times feeling like a business commodity showcased for investors — which, in a sports sense, is the truth — Khairi Fortt is relieved to have all of the pre-draft workouts and visits behind him and getting down to living a childhood dream: playing professional football.
The NFL Draft begins next Thursday, and in all likelihood Fortt, the former Stamford High School star, will find out on the second or third day what city he hopes to be calling his new home.
“It has been kind of a long experience,” Fortt said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon as he was packing up his apartment near the University of California campus to return to Stamford for the first time since January. “Interviewing, going to meet all the teams and see how the process works internally. I’m looking for it to be over. I’m glad I got the experience not a lot of people get.”
Since his last stay in the city where he first made a name for himself in the sport, Fortt has taken part in the NFL Combine, had official visits with five teams and has trained regularly on the West Coast, occasionally with some current professional players, most prominently running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who recently signed with the Oakland Raiders.
“It has been a lot of back and forth,” Fortt said. “Workouts and in-depth interviews. I want to get to a team and start playing football. Usually I’d be finishing spring football now. I feel like I am back in high school, going to camps.”
Fortt, a 6-2, 240-pound outside linebacker, graduated from Stamford in 2009 and played at Penn State, before transferring in 2012 to Cal in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Fortt redshirted that season with a knee injury, but returned this year and finished tied for third on the Bears with 64 tackles — 3.5 for losses — and was selected as one of 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker, despite splitting playing time.
He decided in January, after an evaluation from the NFL advisory board, to declare early for the draft.
“There’s been a very positive vibe going with Khairi,” said Ed Johnson, an agent with Eastern Athletic Services in Maryland, who represents Fortt. “People have a lot of good things to say about him. He’s athletic, brings the right attitude and has strong character.”
The firm once represented Michael Strahan and its current clients include the Giants’ Chris Snee, the Eagles’ Trent Cole and the Cardinals’ John Abraham.
Johnson said he feels Fortt’s prospects have been enhanced during the pre-draft process.
“He has done very well at the combines and everything is going up,” Johnson said. “It is hard to predict but he has improved his status as best he can. He’s done great.”
Fortt has had visits with the Lions, Raiders, Ravens, Seahawks and 49ers.
“They fly you out for two days and the first day you get there you usually go out to dinner with a couple of their staff members, then get time to go to the hotel and hang out a little,” Fortt said. “The next day you meet with the general manager, the head coach, the defensive coordinator, the position coach and the player personnel staff. Basically it is like a second interview. The combine interviews take 15 minutes. Like speed dating. This is a longer time so they get to know you and see your personality.”
Fortt is considered one of the more intriguing players in the draft. Because of injuries he has played less college ball than most, but he has always performed well at combines because of his natural ability.
“It’s safe to say that I’m a little raw in terms of being out there a lot,” Fortt said. “But I don’t have a lot of miles on me.”
Due to playing at two different schools and under two different staffs at Cal, Fortt has versatility, versed in both the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses.
Johnson admitted that it is too speculative to guess when Fortt might be drafted, but said he senses there is a lot of interest in his client.
“I’m not sure there’s much risk there,” Johnson said. “He’s an NFL linebacker and has all the qualities you want in an NFL linebacker.”
As for Fortt, he is anxious to get back on the field and live his dream.
“I just want to start competing,” Fortt said. “I hope I get my name called early and the feeling is going to be really exciting.”