Lirim Hajrullahu isn’t losing any sleep worrying about what awaits him at BMO Field.
The Toronto Argonauts move into the refurbished stadium this season, officially kicking off the 2016 CFL campaign June 23 hosting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Argos called Rogers Centre home for 27 seasons and the domed facility was the perfect equalizer to whatever conditions Mother Nature created.
Hajrullahu won’t have that luxury as he begins his tenure with Toronto, and he’s fine with it.
“I’ve played outdoors all my life . . . so it’s not a big difference,” he said. “With all the renovations it (BMO Field) looks like it’s going to be a fun atmosphere.
“In the past playing at Rogers Centre, the fans were all there but it was such a big stadium that unless it’s full and packed, the game is lost. I feel like with the new stadium and the additions they’ve added, it will help with the wind conditions. Everyone would like to play indoors but the reality is we always practise outdoors so it doesn’t make a huge difference.”
Wind and cool temperatures are both very possible given BMO Field’s proximity to Lake Ontario, as are lake-effect rain and snow. A canopy roof is being installed over the east, west and south stands but won’t offer fans or players total protection from the elements.
And at Exhibition Stadium _ the Argos’ former home on the CNE grounds, where BMO Field is now located _ seagulls were an issue. In August 1983, Dave Winfield, then an outfielder with the New York Yankees, was arrested for killing one with a baseball.
The charges were eventually dropped and Winfield later helped the ’92 Toronto Blue Jays win the World Series.
Hajrullahu has dealt with cold and wind before. He played collegiately at Western _ where the weather can be bad in October and November _ before joining the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2014.
Hajrullahu practised outdoors daily in Manitoba over two seasons and also played at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium and Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field _ two venues where swirling winds can offer challenging conditions for punters and kickers.
“I know wind plays a big factor but you have to make friends with it and not fight it as much,” he said. “If it’s a windy day, your opponent is playing in the same type of environment so it’s how you mentally prepare for it.
“For me, during the spring I’m kicking all over Niagara and it’s really windy so I’m just trying to prepare my best for our team.”
Hajrullahu hopes he’ll get the chance to visit BMO Field and get a lay of the land before training camp opens May 28 at the University of Guelph.
The five-foot-11, 205-pound Hajrullahu was born in Kosovo and came to Canada with his family as an eight-year-old. He started playing football in high school in St. Catharines, Ont., before going to Western.
Hajrullahu hit 40-of-46 field goals (87 per cent) and 31-of-32 converts for 151 points as a CFL rookie. He also posted a 43.8-yard punting average and was the runner-up to Toronto’s Swayze Waters for the John Agro award as the CFL’s top special-teams player.
Hajrullahu made 22-of-32 field goals (69 per cent) and 15-of-21 converts (which went back 20 yards to the 32) last season with a 44.8-yard punting average before being replaced by American Sergio Castillo. Winnipeg signed veteran kicker/punter Justin Medlock in free agency, allowing Hajrullahu to join the Argos.
Hajrullahu is preparing to handle all three kicking jobs with Toronto as Waters, an American, is now with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
“Tough to lose Swayze but I’m real happy with the guy we got,” Argos coach Scott Milanovich said Wednesday during a conference call. “We now have a young Canadian which gives us some freedom with our ratio and other spots.
“I think he’ll take off this year.”
Hajrullahu feels no pressure replacing Waters, who in 2014 led the CFL in punting (47.7-yard average), scoring (184 points) and field goals (47) but missed most of last season with injuries.
“He (Waters) did many great things for Toronto and the NFL noticed,” Hajrullahu said. “But the only shoes I need to fill are my own.”
Hajrullahu welcomes the fresh start in Toronto and chance to play closer to home. The Argos host the Bombers on Aug. 12 before visiting the Manitoba capital Sept. 17 but neither date is circled on Hajrullahu’s calendar.
“I met many great families and people there and it will be exciting to see them again,” he said. “There are no asterisks or stars beside those games.
“In my eyes . . . they’ll be just another opponent.”