- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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When Khairi Fortt departed Penn State and came to Cal before the start of the 2012 season, he knew he was entering two different worlds. One off the field. One on it.
Berkeley, Calif., is unlike anywhere else in the country. Pac-12 football is unlike any other brand of football in the country.
"Culture shock," Fortt said. "Definitely some culture shock. I'm used to it now."
He has acclimated himself to Berkeley. That took a while.
"Everyone is such a free spirit," he said.
And he has adjusted his game to better fit the Pac-12.
"Fast," he said. "There is so much speed. The Big Ten is not slow or anything. But this is a different type of fast. The pace of the game is faster -- almost more of a finesse game. It's a lot more running than hitting. In the Big Ten, if you're a linebacker, you are smashing into fullbacks. In this league you have to be able to play man-to-man coverage on some of these quick receivers. I like it a lot. I've got some speed too and I get to show it off.
"Even on defense. It's a faster pace. There's not as much time for hitting because everyone is flying around."
Good thing for Fortt -- and the Bears -- he knows what they are looking to do on defense under new coach Sonny Dykes and defensive coordinator Andy Buh. The Bears are transitioning to a 4-3 front, something Fortt is very familiar with having played linebacker at Penn State. After missing all of last season following knee surgery, he's ready to finally make an impact on this football team.
"My teammates were great and they welcomed me with open arms," he said. "Now it's time to get on the field and start helping them win some games. This summer is going to be a grind. But it's going to be essential for us to work hard. We can't wait to get the season started."
Fortt appeared in nine games for Penn State in 2010 -- one of only seven true freshmen to see action. The next year he appeared in every game, but still wasn't contributing as much as he would have liked. So even before the NCAA handed down its harsh punishments on the program, Fortt was looking to make a move.
Now with a surgically repaired knee and a thirst to get back on the field, he's in line for a starting job as one of Cal's outside linebackers.
"He showed some flashes this spring," said Dykes. "He made some impactful plays. He needs to be more consistent. There were times he was either real good or just OK. He needs to be more solid. That's what I took from him coming out of spring. He's got a good football sense and he's very physical at the point of attack. He gets off blocks well."
Fortt, who hails from Stamford, Conn., has been rooming with fellow linebacker Nick Forbes (Frederick, Md.). The two knew each other from high school all-star games, which made it easier for Fortt to settle on Cal -- one of many schools that contacted him.
"That really made it easier already knowing Nick," Fortt said. "He and I have a dry-erase board and we're always drawing up plays and formations.
"... I think [Buh] understands the athleticism he has with this defense. It's almost like a hybrid defense. There's a little bit of zone, but a lot of times I'm playing man-to-man because of the trust he has in us being an athletic group. We can keep teams guessing because we're good enough to play man or zone."
Because of his injury, Fortt never had the chance to play in the odd-front scheme of former Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who is now directing the defense at USC. And while Dykes acknowledges there is some transition that goes with changing defensive philosophies, it's still football.
"I don't think it's that big of a transition as people make it out to be," Dykes said. "Sometimes the style is a little different. Sometimes an odd front is more attacking and always adjusting. A 4-3 is a little simpler to make adjustments off of. It's a different school of thought, but from a technical standpoint there's really not that big of a difference. You still have to cover the A-gap."