Khairi Fortt’s trek to the NFL isn’t what he ever imagined.
The Cal linebacker was the first Bay Area player chosen Saturday, taken in the fourth round by the New Orleans Saints with the 126th overall pick.
How he got there was often a rough road. The Stamford, Connecticut native began his college career at Penn State, but sought a new environment two years ago after the Jerry Sandusky scandal rocked the Nittany Lions’ program.
He landed in Berkeley, then endured a 1-11 season last fall — Cal’s worst ever.
“Life doesn’t go as planned,” he said after being picked by the Saints. “I felt like you’re always going to have adversity. I learned from every second I was at Penn State and at Cal.
“Now that I’ve made it here, I feel like all those experiences have helped me be the man I am today. I always had trust, faith in God that he’d put me somewhere.”
Fortt was the second Cal player chosen in the draft, following tight end Richard Rodgers, who was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the third round on Friday.
Cal defensive tackle Deandre Coleman expected to be a late-round pick, was not drafted, but signed a free-agent contract late Saturday night with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Fortt said he’d hoped to be picked earlier, but when the Saints called he was excited.
“Right now, I can’t be happier,” he said. “I finally got picked and I just can’t wait to get down to Louisiana to start working out with the team.”
After sitting out the 2012 campaign as a Cal transfer, the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder had a solid junior season with 64 tackles. He reportedly improved his stock with a strong showing at the NFL combine camp.
Fortt will join former Cal star Cameron Jordan, a standout defensive end, when he arrives in New Orleans. Turns out, Jordan was Fortt’s player host when he visited the Berkeley campus as a high school senior.
“It’s going to be great. You have guys there that are experienced, that I can learn from,” he said. “Having another Cal player there in Cam Jordan … it’s going to play for a great defense and great coaches.
“I’m at a loss for words right now.”
Fortt said he’s willing to do whatever the Saints coaching staff needs from him, including playing on special teams.
“It’s your job. You’re not going to say no. You do what’s expected of you,” Fortt said. “I’m going to fit in where they want me to fit.”
Fortt leaves Cal just three classes shy of his degree in American Studies. His mother has degrees from Georgetown and Columbia and is an teacher, so not completing his academic work is not an option.
“You would be naive to think football is a career,” he said. “I could be done in three years, five years, six years. That’s a good term, but it’s not the rest of your life.
“I know a Berkeley degree can take me a long way.”