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Fort playing both corner and safety for UW

April 15, 2014

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Cortland Fort wasn’t difficult to spot.

The running back’s 155 pounds spread thinly over a 6-foot frame, he ran. He darted around massive defensive tackles and muscular, gliding linebackers. The Etiwanda (Calif.) High School freshman scampered into the open field, the only place he felt momentarily safe.

“Ran” might not be the right word. There was too much panic, like a gang of cats stalking an overwhelmed mouse.

Fort was a 13-year-old high freshman on the varsity football team, standing across the line from prowling defenders who were three or four years his senior.

And when he got the ball, he fled.

“It was crazy. I was terrified,” Fort, now a redshirt sophomore defensive back at Wyoming, said with a laugh. “I was like 155 (pounds), maybe, and all these high schoolers were out there hitting. And I actually got brought up as a running back, so that was even worse.”

He bursts out laughing again.

“I was taking tons of contact.”

Fort entered kindergarten a year early, and from there on he was always the youngest kid in his class. This wasn’t so evident until he decided to play high school football, and was subsequently promoted up to the ranks to the varsity squad.

“I actually had to get a waiver signed by my parents so I could play,” Fort told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/1p7hfi2).

That experience, however, placed Fort firmly ahead of the curve. By the time he was a senior, it felt like he had been playing high school football forever. He got bigger and stronger, and progressively morphed from a terrified running back into a roaming safety and cornerback.

Fort still wasn’t the oldest, but that hardly mattered in football years.

“I felt like I had been doing this for a long time. It almost came to me easy,” he said. “The game felt a lot slower.”

Instead of taking the direct route to a college roster, Fort decided to take advantage of his extra year. He enrolled at the United States Military Academy Prepatory School at West Point, a place where he could play a season of football without losing a year of eligibility.

From there, he landed at Wyoming in 2012 and immediately redshirted, extending his career even further. By the time he returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown against Northern Colorado on Sept. 14, 2013, Fort felt like the oldest redshirt freshman on Earth.

“I feel so old right now,” Fort said this spring with a sigh and a smile. “If I would have come straight out of high school and played, I would be a senior graduating like Blair (Burns) and DeAndre (Jones).

“I still have three more years, but I feel really old.”

Fort is determined to make those years count. Standing at 6-foot and 185 pounds, the Fontana, Calif., native has the frame to slide in and contribute at either safety or cornerback. And so far this spring, that’s exactly what he’s been doing.

“In practice, we’re trying him out at different places,” cornerbacks coach John Richardson said. “We’re trying to figure out what his strengths are.

“He’s definitely a gifted player, and the more things he can do, the more flexibility we have on defense. It just depends mainly on schemes, but right now he’s learning both (safety and cornerback) and he has the ability to play both.”

That can be a frustrating proposition for Fort, who has had to essentially absorb a new defense — the Tampa 2 — from two perspectives simultaneously. But after years of shifting positions and waiting, the spot on the field isn’t what matters.

Fort wants to get out there and play — period.

“At this point, at whatever position I’m at I just want to be on the field,” he said. “I can’t be content with where I’m at. I just need to get out there.”

And years after he took hand-offs and fled from older on-field bullies, the tables have certainly turned. Now, Fort is one of the more physical defensive backs on Wyoming’s roster.

Now, he’s the one delivering the blow.

“I really like the new defense, because I’m an aggressive, physical guy,” Fort said. “I can really use that at corner, just flying in. Coming downhill, I get to roam.”

An old man in a young man’s shoes, Fort smiled again.

“I like it all.”


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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