Canadian kicker Lirim Hajrullahu signs with Carolina Panthers

Photo courtesy: Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers have signed Canadian kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, according to Tom Pelissero.

Veteran placekicker Zane Gonzalez was injured during warmups of Sunday’s loss to the Buffalo Bills, leaving former CFL all-star receiver Brandon Zylstra to serve as the emergency kicker.

The five-foot-eleven, 205-pounder dressed for one game this season with the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10 while veteran Greg Zuerlein was out due to COVID-19 protocols. He said he “didn’t feel any jitters” during his NFL debut, during which he went perfect on his converts and kickoffs in a rout of the Atlanta Falcons.

Zuerlein returned for the Cowboys’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11, making all three of his field goal attempts. That led to Dallas releasing Hajrullahu who has been brought in by NFC East Division rival Washington.

The former CFL kicker originally signed with the 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.

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.