BERKELEY -- Khairi Fortt, the newest Cal football player, arrived on campus at 2 a.m. Sunday, and spent his day completing paperwork, meeting his teammates and coaches and visiting with team doctors about his surgically repaired right knee.
The junior inside linebacker from Penn State watched practice and seemed remarkably alert during an interview for a guy who badly needed a good night's sleep.
"It seems like everybody's free spirited here, it's very diverse, everybody's cool about life," the 20-year-old Stamford, Conn., native said. "And it's a beautiful campus."
Fortt is one of nine Penn State players to depart the program so far after NCAA sanctions levied against the Nittany Lions on July 23 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
But his exit from State College, Pa., had virtually nothing to do with the yearlong crisis that led to the dismissal of the late coaching legend Joe Paterno.
Fortt (whose first name is pronounced Ky-ree) said he was ready to leave anyway.
"I wasn't happy with my situation at Penn State. It has nothing to do with the coaches there now," he said. "I had to make a change for myself. There were on-the-field issues, also off-the-field. Me and my family came to the consensus this was the best."
Fortt said Cal was among 36 schools that contacted him over the past two weeks, but the Bears had an edge because he nearly picked Berkeley out of high school. He opted for Penn
"I was 17 and a little immature," he said.
Fortt, who is listed as 6-foot-2, 240 pounds and will wear uniform No. 13, is immediately eligible to play, according to terms of the NCAA sanctions.
How soon he's able to practice and play isn't clear. Listed as a co-starter on the Penn State depth chart when spring ball began, he underwent surgery to repair a ligament that stabilizes the patella. He actually tore the ligament back in the ninth grade, but it didn't become a problem until a few months ago.
Fortt, who hasn't even run since the spring, talked of "accelerating" the process so he can get on the field as soon as possible.
But Cal coach Jeff Tedford stressed Fortt has nothing to prove and no reason to rush back. "He's a smart guy and he's a veteran, so he understands how rehab works," Tedford said. "And he's confident enough he knows he doesn't have to come back too fast."
Fortt declined to answer questions related to the Penn State scandal, which led to substantial penalties, including a four-year bowl ban and scholarship limitations.
But he said many of his old teammates will be friends forever, and no one there tried talking him out of leaving.
He doesn't buy that the Penn State program will be crippled by sanctions. "They have a great set of coaches," Fortt said. "I think they're going to do very well."