By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD — Former Stamford High School star Khairi Fortt, whose circuitous college career took him first to Penn State and then the University of California, announced on Wednesday that he is leaving Cal and declaring for the NFL Draft.
Fortt, a 6-2, 240-pound outside linebacker, said he made his decision Monday, after receiving his evaluation from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, which he said projects him to be selected in the third or fourth round.
“I feel like I have been through a lot, with Penn State and the whole ordeal, then transferring and sitting out a year with an injury, and then the coaching change,” Fortt said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “I love my team and my teammates, but I felt like it was time to take the next road.”
Fortt said he was close to selecting but had not yet hired an agent.
Fortt has been in Stamford for the past week. He is leaving Sunday for Florida to train at Athletes’ Performance Institute. One of the people he will be working out with is his close friend and former Penn State teammate Silas Redd, who played at King and recently announced he is leaving USC and hopes to play next season in the NFL.
“We just worked out a little bit together while we were home,” Fortt said. “We talked about the whole process and how times have changed.”
Fortt 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.
“I feel like I’m ready for the next step,” Fortt said. “I wish I got more playing time. It’s always frustrating. Everyone wants to be out there. I kept my composure and helped the team out as much as I could. The advantage of that is I didn’t beat up my body as much. Wear and tear on my body is not a factor.”
Fortt played for his third college head coach this season, Sonny Dykes, who just completed his first year at Cal. The team finished 1-11.
Fortt said the biggest factor in his decision was the results from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, a panel that gives players both eligible to continue playing in college or enter the draft guidance.
Fortt said of the seven grades he received, two projected him as a second-round choice, two as a third, one as a fourth, one as a fifth and one as an undrafted free agent.
“It’s a conservative opinion,” Fortt said. “I don’t get too overwhelmed. If the results were different I might have come back (to Cal). I wanted to see where I stand.”
Fortt was a U.S. Army All-American after playing for Stamford.
Fortt said growing up he was a Tampa Bay fan because of Warren Sapp and, in particular, former star linebacker Derrick Brooks.
Asked if he had a preference which team drafted him, Fortt laughed.
“Tampa Bay, that sounds great,” he said. “I’ll go wherever I’m wanted.”