This past weekend I had the opportunity to sit down with NFL Draft hopeful and former Northern Iowa linebacker LJ Fort.Fort led the FCS this past season in tackles (184) and also accounted for an astounding 14.15 tackles per game. LJ is an athletic linebacker with range, who says he plays much bigger than his size (6-1 230 lbs.) would indicate. LJ puts his heart, determination, and passion into everything he does and what I found from our interview is a player and person who is eager, anxious and excited to prove he has what it takes to make it both on and off the football field. His interests and passions in life are far reaching from the football field and I feel extremely fortunate to have had the pleasure to sit down with LJ and learn a little bit more about him and what makes him tick.
Brandon Holstein: At What age did you become involved in the game of football and how quickly did you fall in love with it?
LJ Fort: I actually started playing football in Hawaii because my parents were in the military so we traveled everywhere. A couple Samoans would always be playing football outside in the yard so that’s where I first started playing football, was with those big Samoans where you had to run for your life basically.
Brandon Holstein: You come from a pretty big family LJ with a military and athletic background, how competitive of a person did this make you growing up?
LJ Fort: Yes sir, pretty big family with four kids and they all ran track, went to state and my mom also went to state in high school too for track. I was the oldest of the kids so I didn’t really compete with any of them specifically but there was always competition within my family growing up.
Brandon Holstein: LJ, I found out that you are very passionate about the bible and your religion; can you tell us a little bit about where this came from and what draws you to the lord?
LJ Fort: I’ve always grown up in the church and my mom made it a point for us to attend church every Wednesday and Thursday. Then I got to college and I just knew that I needed Jesus Christ, so once I made the decision to make him a part of my life I found a whole new purpose for myself and it’s been amazing ever since.
Brandon Holstein: One of my Twitter followers wanted to get your reaction from this verse: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.” Can you expand on this passage a little bit and let me know what it means to you?
LJ Fort: Absolutely, I love that passage. I believe that Jesus is demonstrating how to pray and I just love how he uses that context to let you know that whatever you are going through personally he is right there with you.
Brandon Holstein: So if football didn’t work out for you LJ, do you think this is something you would pursue, as far as following your religion or maybe even the ministry?
LJ Fort: Definitely, that’s one of my goals in the future to run a youth ministry camp. Right now I also volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club and I am also the leader at a small group for my football team.
Brandon Holstein: You lead the FCS in tackles with a school record 184 this past season LJ; can you tell me how you were able to be so effective and efficient in consistently finding and taking down the ball carrier?
LJ Fort: Yeah, I have to give most of that credit to my linebacker coach, Javon Dewitt who helped me over the summer. I wasn’t really satisfied with my play my Junior season and I knew I was better than that so I went to him and he broke down tape just for me and really did a good job coaching me on specific techniques that made a world of a difference in my game and it showed my Senior year.
Brandon Holstein: So it seems like you were really able to put everything together this year, would you attribute this to more time spent in the film or weight rooms or do you think most of it came from the coaching you received?
LJ Fort: No, I mean I have always put in the work so I know it wasn’t that. But it was mostly just little technique stuff like how to take on a blocker and shedding them differently as well as taking a good first step and not false stepping or anything like that to give me that split-second advantage to get a better angle to make the tackle.
Brandon Holstein: You were a running back in high school LJ, how do you think this helped you as far as your transition to the defense side of the football in college?
LJ Fort: I played both offense and defense in high school so it wasn’t as big of a transition but being a running back is definitely a position where you have to be more athletic and I would have to say that is the forte of how I play the linebacker position.
Brandon Holstein: Can you touch on what you believe your greatest strength is as a linebacker and do you believe you can play all three downs in the NFL?
LJ Fort: Definitely the best part of my game is my athletic ability to get to the ball carrier as fast as I can. My first step and acceleration are two of the things that are the best part of my game. The first two downs in football is all just mental and it doesn’t matter how big you are if you have the mentality that you’re the biggest out there then that’s how you are going to play.
Brandon Holstein: What would you say is the one aspect of your game that you need to improve the most on and what you have been doing to get better at that specific thing?
LJ Fort: I would have to say probably my point of attack and dealing with how to disengage after a lineman is able to get their hands on me. Just learning how to get off those blocks because most of the time my quickness is enough to get around them but on draw plays and things like that they are able to climb right up on you and you don’t necessarily have that advantage on them, so that’s probably the one area of my game I need to improve most in.
Brandon Holstein: What would you say motivates or inspires you the most LJ?
LJ Fort: First and foremost is just playing for the glory of god and just playing to make his name known. And secondly just that gift that I have and just being able to take advantage of that because there are people out there that can’t even walk, so just playing for those people motivates me. Also, my family of course.
Brandon Holstein: Do you consider yourself to be a natural leader on the field LJ and how do you draw or bring inspiration out of your teammates on the field?
LJ Fort: When I get on the field I flip a switch and I just get so intense and emotional. I’m just so focused on winning I turn into a different person. I don’t know, I’m just like extremely intense on the field and just making sure my teammates and myself are doing everything we can to win.
Brandon Holstein: Do you think you can make an impact on special teams early on in your career and do you think you have the experience to help out in this aspect of the game?
LJ Fort: I made sure I was on special teams this year and for much of my collegiate career so that was really fun because I love kickoffs. Special teams is all just mental and really comes down to if you’re ready to hit somebody in the mouth or not. I love being a head hunter out there so special teams is a favorite of mine.
Brandon Holstein: You’re listed at about 6-1 230 lbs. which some consider to be a little undersized for an NFL linebacker. How do you back that up and what do you say when people question how you will hold up in the NFL due to your limited size?
LJ Fort: It’s all a mentality thing, like I said before if you play like you are 250 lbs. then you will play that way. When you play with that mentality you will always be that much better.
Brandon Holstein: These next set of questions are designed to get to know you a little bit away from the football field better so the first one here is, what is your favorite type of food and if you had to choose a last meal what would it be?
LJ Fort: Ah man that’s a really good question (laughing). Man, there isn’t nothing better than some ribs and some cheese cake piled up.
Brandon Holstein: Really? Some cheesecake huh (laughing)? Do you like putting cherries on your cheesecake too?
LJ Fort: Oh yeah, got to have that (laughs).
Brandon Holstein: If we were to look at your Ipod what kind of music would we find?
LJ Fort: Aw man I listen to a bit of everything. From country to rap, rock I just like it all. Lot of Christian music as well.
Brandon Holstein: I’m actually a country guy myself; do you have a favorite artist or song you would like to share with us?
LJ Fort: I actually got to meet Luke Bryan this year so that was quite the experience.
Brandon Holstein: Oh yeah? How did you get to meet him?
LJ Fort: He and Jason Aldean actually came to Cedar Falls to do a concert and we were working it so we got to take a picture with them and meet them so that was pretty cool.
Brandon Holstein: Awesome, awesome, he’s a great artist. What would you say is your favorite movie of all time?
LJ Fort: Man that’s crazy (laughs). I have so many. I’ll have to go with 300.
Brandon Holstein: 300 the Spartan movie? You just really like the action and fighting and all that?
LJ Fort: Yeah. Remember the Titans would have to be up there as well
Brandon Holstein: What was your favorite NFL team and player growing up and why?
LJ Fort: My favorite team was the Chicago Bears just because all my family is from Chicago. My favorite player of all time is Charles Woodson and that’s why I wear number 24 my whole entire football career.
Brandon Holstein: Okay, okay so you like Chuck? He’s a great athlete I mean that guy is pretty ageless, I don’t know if he is ever going to slow down and stop creating turnovers (laughing). I’m actually a Detroit Lions fan so I’m waiting for the day he retires in all honesty, even though he did go to Michigan. I mean I love him and respect him but he’s just so darn good you know?
LJ Fort: Yeah, he’s a turnover machine.
Brandon Holstein: exactly.
Brandon Holstein: Last question here LJ. Where will you be for draft day and who will be watching with you?
LJ Fort: I’ll just be with some of my other teammates that have a chance of being drafted or picked up by teams, so just hanging out with them and taking in all the excitement and stuff.
Brandon Holstein: Absolutely. Well we wish you the best of luck LJ and good luck this weekend. We hope to hear your name called at some point, I know I will be cheering for you so we just want to wish you the best of luck from all of us here at NFL Draft Monsters and we look forward to following your career, whether that’s on the football field or away from it.
LJ Fort: Hey thanks, I appreciate your time so thank you!