LATROBE, Pa. – Being in a training camp isn't something new to linebacker L.J. Fort.
While he is only in his second season in the NFL, he has been around since 2012, clawing and fighting not just for a roster spot, but just to be noticed and given a shot.
Coming out of Northern Iowa in 2012 the linebacker dreamt of playing in the NFL. He dreamt of being selected in the NFL Draft. But when that didn't happen, he wondered what would be. He soon found out when he was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Cleveland Browns.
Since then it's been a lot of ups and downs. He spent his first season with the Browns, but was released prior to the 2013 season, spending the year out of football. The Denver Broncos signed him the following offseason, but he was released during 2014 training camp. He was added, and not long after released from the Seattle Seahawks practice squad that season, and then signed to the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad a few weeks later. He was released by the Bengals during the 2015 offseason, signed by the New England Patriots during training camp, and then released again.
"I felt like I was not going anywhere, just running in place," said Fort. "I felt like I needed to move on with my life because I felt like I was being used as a camp body the three years after Cleveland, just bouncing around here and there."
Once he was released by the Patriots, though, his fortune changed. Fort was claimed off of waivers by the Steelers, and immediately felt energized.
Now, in his second year with the Steelers, Fort is feeling completely different. He is running with the Steelers' second-team defense at inside linebacker, and he is turning some heads, getting noticed.
"It's going good," said Fort. "Running with the second unit, that's always a good thing. I am getting better each and every day, making plays. I am loving it.
"I am trying to get better at everything. I am working on all of the little details that come with the game. I am working on improving my coverage in the run game just as much as the passing game."
Fort said working with the second team has put more eyes on him, especially from the coaching staff, and he couldn't ask for anything more.
"The coaches put a lot more emphasis on you, you feel like they see your importance, and your belief in yourself goes to a whole other level," said Fort. "That helps with working at everything I want to work at.
"I have been to a lot of places and it's not too much fun being a camp body. That is what I love about here. Everybody gets an opportunity. You aren't in a situation like I was before where you don't get a lot of reps and you can see your future coming. Everybody here gets a chance to make a play.
"It makes you work harder. When people believe they have a chance to make the team, they are going to work that much harder."
With the departure of Sean Spence and Terence Garvin this offseason via free agency, Fort is doing his best to take advantage of the opening at linebacker and on special teams.
"Those are two great players on special teams and when they left I wanted to step up and fill that void," said Fort. "I want to take advantage of the opportunity.
"I just need to keep working. Coach always says be a better worker than player. That is what I am trying to do now, work on everything I can to make this team better. Every part of my game I am trying to get better at. I am trying to be an all-around balanced linebacker and special teams player."