The Spring League doesn’t have to play another game this season to cement the legacy of Generals kicker Lirim Hajrullahu. His legacy is already etched in the form of a 59-yard field goal in the league’s first televised game on FOX. He doesn’t have to do anything further to become known across the nation as the best prospect in The Spring League.

But he did. And he called it too.

I released my top ten talents in the Spring League article last week. I tagged prospects that I had named on social media as a means to help bring awareness to their endeavors. Normally, when I write lists, I get some feedback from players on the list and some who didn’t make the cut. Sometimes, that’s a positive interaction. Other times, it isn’t nice.

Shortly after the article was published, I received a Twitter DM request from a fellow with an interesting name. His message was simple. “No kickers in the top ten?” He followed it with a wink.

It was Lirim Hajrullahu.

Early life memories molded who Lirim Hajrullahu became

Hajrullahu isn’t some young former group-of-five kicker still looking to prove himself. He’s an accomplished pro who was an all-star kicker in the CFL. He is known for his fun-loving personality and playful remarks on Twitter and in the locker room. It was, however, his early life that molded him to become the person he is.

He was born in Gjilan, Kosovo. His family fled the country when he was nine years old due to the genocide occurring. “My family and I were able to escape after seeing snipers surrounding our village,” Lirim recollected to me, “soldiers preparing to come in walking the streets with AK47’s and as we were leaving our town, tanks started rolling in on the opposite side of the road, burning houses as we fled for our lives.”

The Hajrullahu family fled to the South to Macedonia, arriving in a refugee camp to figure out where they would go. “I would wake up at 5 am with my uncle to go line up at the food truck for bread and sardines,” Lirim said. “Luckily, after getting climatized in the refugee camp, more and more help was coming.” That was Lirim’s life until first-world countries started accepting refugees.

His father had five uncles living in Canada. Lirim and his family moved to St. Catherines, Ontario, to be close to family if they needed support. “That we did [need],
he recalled.

How Lirim started playing football

It wasn’t until he was in tenth grade that he started playing football while at Governor Simcoe Secondary School in St. Catherines, Ontario. His high school football coach bugged him the entirety of ninth grade to play on the football team.

“Growing up in Canada, soccer was the only thing I wanted to play, but soccer wasn’t that popular. I thought [football] was too dangerous,” Hajrullahu told me. “Eventually, he said, ‘come out in grade ten on the first day of school, and if you don’t like it, then I will never bother you again.’ Of course, I loved it.”

Lirim made the Junior Canadian team following his sophomore year and competed on the national stage, Canada losing to the United States in Canton, Ohio. He returned his senior year with the Senior team, losing again to the United States, this time in Vienna, Austria. While in high school, Hajrullahu broke every Canadian high school kicking record. “This gave me hope that I one day could play pro,” he remembered.

Hajrullahu played college football at Western Ontario. He had an outstanding career there and kicking 29 of 34 of his field goals successfully in his final season in college.

Lirim Hajrullahu’s All-Star career in the CFL

Lirim Hijrullahu attempts a field goal with the Hamilton Tiger Cats in action against the Edmonton Football Team.

Lirim Hajrullahu is a 31-year old former All-Star in the CFL, spending six years in league with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Toronto Argonauts, and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In his career in the CFL, Hijrullahu connected on 239 of his 287 field goal attempts.

In 2014, Lirim broke the CFL rookie field goal percentage record and was awarded the West Special Teams Player of the Year. 2016, he was the East All-Star kicker.

In 2017, Hajrullahu was the kicker for the Grey Cup-winning Toronto Argonauts under former NFL head coach Marc Trestman. In a snow-ridden windstorm, he put through the game-winning kick. Then, in 2019, he was again the East All-Star kicker.

Lirim Hajrullahu’s brief NFL stint

In January of 2020, he was released by the Tiger-Cats to allow him to pursue NFL opportunities. The Los Angeles Rams gave him a chance on their practice squad but released him before the start of the season after losing the kicking battle to Sam Sloman. “After my performance in camp, I just thought at worse I would be PR’ed since I can punt and kick,” he told me, “and have 6 years of experience so I can help mentor if they needed me to be that type of teammate. But they weren’t going to keep a third kicker on the roster.”

After opportunities with the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Jets, he was signed by the Carolina Panthers. Lirim had relatives from the refuge camp living in Charlotte that chose the United States to settle. “They were so pumped when I signed with the Panthers,” Lirim recalled. The Panthers signed him back to a futures/reserves deal but released him on March 22nd.

“With all the kicking camps finished, The Spring League was an opportunity I couldn’t pass on,” he said, “as this is going to give a lot of us the exposure we need to get on a team and win a job!”

Lirim Hijrullahu boots a field goal in scrimmage action with the Los Angeles Rams in August, 2020.

Calling his shots

I knew his name looked familiar when I saw the message in my inbox. I couldn’t place it, though, with so many names that I go through within a cycle. “You’ve caught my attention,” I responded. I had to consult Google to look up the name. After going through the search, I remembered people projecting Hajrullahu to beat Sam Sloman as the kicker for the Rams while writing for the Ramblin’ Fan. In fact, my editor, Bret Stuter, was not pleased when the Rams kept Sloman over Hajrullahu.

“If I’m being honest, my man,” I ended up replying, “I was not familiar with you before you messaged me. Went back and looked into you a little bit. I’m sorry that I haven’t been better with keeping up on the CFL side of things. Looking forward to seeing you in action today – I think you’ve got a chance to be better than any of the kickers last night. Keep in touch, Lirim, I’ll be sure to shout you out a bit.”

Hajrullahu responded with a laugh and the quick “‘Preciate it” response. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to see the performance on Saturday afternoon that I did.

The Spring League Legend

The Generals faced the Jousters in week one action. It was the first time the league was being nationally televised on a major network. “Going into Saturday’s game, it was a matter of showcasing what I’ve been working on during the off-season preparing for the NFL season,” Lirim told me. “With my experience, I think it’s just a matter of controlling what I can.”

Entering the game, both the long snapper, Billy Caughell, and the holder, Ryan Mallett, had not performed those roles in an active game since High School. Hajrullahu wasn’t concerned. “They’re working hard to put me in a position to succeed,” he stated, “Ryan and Billy did just that Saturday.”

“I’ve been preparing for moments like this for a very long time, and the fact, so many NFL players, have big legs, I’ve been really focusing on my field goals in the high forties and then extended it from there.”

– Lirim Hajrullahu on preparing for his 59-yard field goal try

From Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, the Jousters took a quick 7-0 lead behind the arm of Luis Perez. The Generals replied with a 37-yard field goal split perfectly down the middle by Lirim Hajrullahu. The Generals lead cut to 7-3.

Midway through the second quarter, the Generals drove down the field and set up Hajrullahu for another 37-yard field goal try. Again, the kick split the imaginary seam that runs dead center between the poles.

The Generals were able to score a touchdown and take the lead with about a minute left to go in the half. A bad snap destroyed the extra point try. Hajrullahu tried to salvage the play with a throw to the end zone but was intercepted.

The kick of his career

Lirim Hijrullahu boots through a 59-yard field goal to end the half in The Spring League action.

The Generals intercepted Perez with 20 seconds to go, who set up a long field goal try. Coming into the game, Hijrullahu’s career-long kick was 56 yards. The Generals sent him out to attempt to pat a halftime lead from 59-yards away.

“I’ve been preparing for moments like this for a very long time,” Lirim told me, “and the fact that so many NFL players have big legs, I’ve been really focusing on my field goals in the high forties and then extended it from there.”

In videos posted on YouTube, Hajrullahu is seen kicking from longer distances than 59. In fact, when preparing for camp with the Rams, Hajrullahu was seen knocking through field goals from 77 and 75 yards. “I’m often pushing myself to make 60-yard field goals consecutively,” Hajrullahu revealed, “and going ninety percent-plus, so when I went for the 59, I was ready.”

A former general manager in the league spoke with me of kicking conditions and how important that is in assessing the kick. “Conditions play into kicking also,” he told me, “Operation time is very important – how quickly does he get off the kick?”

In this case, the wind was light to Hajrullahu’s back. From the field goal post, the orange flag lightly waived to the left. The snap from Caughell was good. The hold from Mallet was solid. Hajrullahu’s kick went up… and through the uprights with room to spare. All of his hard work paid off with a huge kick in the first primetime game of The Spring League on FOX.

Lirim Hajrullahu is looking forward to the future

Lirim put through the game-winner from 47 yards and finished the day 5-for-5 in his field-goal attempts. The Spring League awarded him the South Division Player of the Week. Additionally, he was named our Most Valuable Player of the Week here on NFL Sapient.

Lirim’s goal is to continue to play football. “I love it so much that I wanted to pursue it to the highest level,” he said when remembering his high school experience. “I was still really grateful and still am as [the Rams] gave my first opportunity in the NFL.”

For this article, I took the liberty to ask around the league to see if there would really be any interest in the NFL. How much the performance that Hajrullahu logged would impact his chances?

“It might,” one former general manager told me. “It’s more about a bigger body of work and consistency.” Another NFL Scout told me it could. “Our pro scouts are supposed to be aware,” the scout told me. “However, he must keep it up. A lot of kickers have a game like that and disappear.”

To me, Lirim Hajrullahu can compete on at least five rosters right now for a kicking spot. Whether he gets the chance or not is completely up to the decision-makers in the NFL. You can, however, bet your bottom dollar that if he gets a chance, Hajrullahu will give everything he has to his next opportunity.

“A lot of times,” he told Melissa Martin during an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press, “people will say, ‘Are you nervous when you’re playing in front of all those people?’ No, I can’t be nervous. I’ve had guns and tanks pointed at me.” Lirim Hajrullahu is a winner. He’s clutch. People will remember that.

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By John Vogel

NFL Draft Analyst. Dad.

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