Lirim Hajrullahu perfect in NFL debut as Cowboys trounce Falcons

Canadian kicker Lirim Hajrullahu made his NFL debut on Sunday with the Dallas Cowboys in their 43-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. He was elevated from the practice roster to replace veteran Greg Zuerlein, who is currently in COVID-19 protocol.

Hajrullahu made all five of his point-after attempts as the Cowboys improved to 7-2 on the season, extending their lead in the NFC East. The ball is set at the 15-yard line for point-after attempts in the NFL, making converts the equivalent of a 32-yard field goal. He also kicked off seven times, all of which went for touchbacks.

Dallas formed a commanding 36-3 lead by halftime, thanks in part to Dorance Armstrong Jr. blocking Dustin Colquitt’s punt just before the half. Nahshon Wright made the recovery in the end zone, putting the game out of reach late in the second half.

The five-foot-eleven, 205-pounder originally signed with the Dallas Cowboys in August, but he was waived prior to final training camp cuts. During Week 3 of the pre-season he made both of his extra point attempts and averaged 73.3 yards on kick-offs with two touchbacks.

In Week 2 of the regular season, Dallas brought him back on the practice squad for a week after Greg Zuerlein had a poor performance going three-for-five on field goals and two-for-three on extra points in the Cowboys season-opening loss to Tampa Bay. Injuries at other positions meant there wasn’t enough space to keep Hajrullahu any longer.

Hajrullahu recently had a workout with the Washington Football Team and prior to that played in The Spring League, setting a record by hitting a 59-yard field goal for The Generals. He was playing in TSL in hopes of earning another NFL opportunity.

The Los Angeles Rams cut Hajrullahu at the end of training camp in August 2020. He signed with the Carolina Panthers in January, but was released in March. The Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars worked him out in the off-season.

The Western University product played 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.

Hajrullahu 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.

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