Canadian kicker Lirim Hajrullahu visits Carolina Panthers

Photo courtesy: LA Rams

The Carolina Panthers had Canadian kicker Lirim Hajrullahu in for a visit on Wednesday.

Hajrullahu has to pass six consecutive COVID-19 tests prior to entering the Panthers facility for a workout on Tuesday, December 8. There were two other kickers brought in by the Panthers, veteran Chandler Catanzaro and Louie Zervos. Current Carolina kicker Joey Slye missed what would have been a 54-yard game-winning kick in Week 12 against Minnesota.

The second year kicker has made good on 24-of-31 attempts for Carolina or 77 percent, granted two of the misses have been from 65 and 67 yards respectively. In 2019, Slye converted 25-of-32 three-point attempts (78 percent). He went unselected in the 2018 NFL Draft and spent the season out of football.

The Los Angeles Rams released Hajrullahu at the end of training camp. He was by far the best statistical kicker, but the Rams chose to start the season with Sam Sloman who LA selected in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL draft. Hajrullahu went 10-for-13 in Los Angeles scrimmages while Sloman hit 8-of-13.

The 30-year-old played Hajrullahu in all 18 regular season games with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2019, converting 47-of-55 field goal attempts (85.5 percent) and 26-of-28 single convert attempts (92.8 percent), while averaging 43.1 yards per punt on 106 attempts.

The five-foot-eleven, 205-pounder ranked tied for first in the CFL in field goals made (47), third in scoring (162 points) and sixth in field goal percentage. Hajrullahu earned division all-star honours for the first time in Hamilton and second time in his career (2016 and 2019).

Born in Kosovo, Hajrullahu and his family fled the region when he was a nine-year-old as Serbian forces attacked their town. More than a million ethnic Albanians were displaced and 11,000 were killed in a war that lasted 18 months in the late 1990s.

The family ended up in a refugee camp in neighbouring Macedonia. The family bypassed a chance to immigrate to the U.S. and opted for Canada instead, ultimately settling in the St. Catharines area.

Hajrullahu lost a duel with fellow former CFL kicker Sergio Castillo when the two worked out for the New York Jets in October. Castillo has proven he can kick at the NFL level and Hajrullahu is hoping for the same opportunity.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.