STAMFORD — When his cellphone rang early Saturday afternoon, Khairi Fortt realized a lifelong dream was about to become reality.
Where he was headed, however, was a bit of misdirection that the former Stamford High School linebacker is more equipped to handle on the field.
“I saw an Arlington, Texas, number and I was a little confused,” Fortt said. “OK, I’m going to the Cowboys or Houston. Then I saw the pick coming up and it was New Orleans.”
On the other end was Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, informing Fortt that they were taking him in the fourth round with the 126nd overall pick.
“He told me congratulations, we’re going to draft you,” Fortt said. “I’m confident going there. I will make sure I do my role on the team. I’m just kind of at a loss for words now.”
Fortt was watching the draft in the basement living room of his home with his parents, Tabitha and Guy, and about a dozen friends. Tabitha let out several shrieks over the next half hour, answering a steady stream of phone calls by saying, “Who Dat,” a phrase popularized by Saints fans.
“It is wonderful to be able to support your child, all of our children, in their dreams and goals,” Tabitha said. “He put in a lot of hard work. It means a lot to our family, it means a lot to our community. We tell our kids when you work hard the rewards will come and this is evidence of it.”
Fortt was projected to be selected anytime between the fourth and sixth rounds, but the speculation was so varied that he was prepared for the worse.
As it turned out, his wait Saturday lasted just 90 minutes.
“Going through the first three rounds I was a little skeptical,” Fortt said. “A few linebackers I though I was better than went before me, and some people were saying free agency or late rounds, and then the call came out of the blue. I was totally relaxed.”
Fortt was the kickoff to a great half hour for area football. Six picks later, linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis of Norwalk, who played in Stamford at King and went on to star at Boston College, was selected by the Seahawks.
Fortt was the first player from Stamford picked in the draft since Vlad Ducasse, who went in the second round to the Jets in 2010. Ducasse recently signed with the Vikings as a free agent.
Another King graduate, Nate Collins, is a defensive tackle for the Bears.
Fortt, a 6-2, 248-pound 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 last 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.
Fortt, following a celebration party in downtown Stamford on Saturday night — his father, Guy, graduated from the University of Bridgeport in the morning but overslept and missed the ceremony — was expecting to fly down to New Orleans on Sunday.
Fortt visited with five teams but not the Saints, though he said he spent time during the NFL Combine with Rob Ryan, the team’s defensive coordinator, and several coaches.
“We hardly shook hands,” Fortt recalled. “We went over four or five plays they do against offenses they see in the league. They explained in about two minutes what all five were and I had to memorize and write down formations while they were asking me questions. I guess they wanted to see if I could process information.”
After five months of training and being worked out by teams, Fortt said he was anxious to begin the latest chapter of his career.
“It’s go-time now,” Fortt said. “I’m there. God bless everyone, my parents, who have been with me from day one and had faith in me.”
Tabitha Fortt offered a promise to her son’s new employers: “The Saints, you guys got a thoroughbred, hungry, mean pit bull of a linebacker. I know, I groomed him.”