Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hajrullahu kicking with confidence

Bombers' nearly perfect kicker not letting accolades go to his head

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It's not quite the eager puppy wagging a lot of parts at its master's feet.

But Lirim Hajrullahu standing on the sidelines during the third quarter in BC Place Stadium last Friday night, holding his placement tee in plain sight for Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea just a few feet away, with the Bombers third-and-12 at the B.C. 44-yard-line -- this is the same kind of eager to please.

And boot it through Hajrullahu did from 51 yards out, extending the Winnipeg lead with one of the five field goals that led to his CFL special teams player of the week selection, all of it continuing to build an early-season body of work that, through five games now, is something.

The 24-year-old CFL rookie is now 13-for-14 and 92.9 per cent on field-goal attempts through five games, and whatever's entrusted to his leg appears to be a very good bet.

He's an important 10-for-10 inside the 40, the must-have zone, and the St. Catharines, Ont., product is starting to find believers.

"He's a confident kid, he's ready to go," O'Shea said about last Friday's 51-yard field goal. "He was standing with the tee there, right beside me, shaking it around me... He's done well. I'll try all year not to talk about him."

It's a bit of a running gag early that O'Shea just isn't going to let anyone on his team get ahead of themselves.

'One kick at a time. It's only five games in. I'm going to keep doing what we've been doing... This is really early in the year. It's good we're having this early success but it's not how you start, it's how you finish in October and November, that's going to be the real challenge'

-- Lirim Hajrullahu

His rookie kicker included.

"It's interesting, that when we say rookie, they're a rookie here in the CFL but he's been kicking for a long time," O'Shea said as the Bombers prepared to face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Thursday night at McMaster University. "He's come from a pretty good program where they've had big games and I'm sure he was put in that position where they always had lots of competition.

"I would think he's a little more prepared than other kickers coming into the league as a rookie."

O'Shea is right on that account.

Hajrullahu stood out at the University of Western Ontario, scoring a school-record 402 points in his career with the Mustangs. He kicked 29 three-pointers in 34 attempts last year.

As O'Shea tries to keep the hype to a minimum, Hajrullahu is happy to play that game.

"One kick at a time," the kicker said. "It's only five games in. I'm going to keep doing what we've been doing, trying to stay comfortable with Brian (Brohm, the usual holder) and trying to stay comfortable with Ian (Wild, the long-snapper) and keep succeeding and hopefully keep winning.

"I'm happy with (consistency) so far but I'm not ready to... I'm ready to keep working hard and keep working with Ian and Brian and the rest of the O-line to keep improving.

"This is really early in the year. It's good we're having this early success but it's not how you start, it's how you finish in October and November, that's going to be the real challenge.

"All these games are getting us ready for down the road and so far, so good."

Last Friday's interesting incident, with Hajrullahu practically begging for a shot at the 51-yarder, was a part of the developing relationship between coach and kicker.

"From our experiences, I have to be close," Hajrullahu said. "We had an opportunity in the first week in the pre-season and it was from 51 or 52 yards and I wanted it, but we ended up punting.

"He asked me, 'Lirim, did you want that?' And I told him I did. So he told me I had to stay close and to let him know when I'm ready and confident in myself, because once he sees the confidence in me, he'll make the final judgment.

"I was ready for that one (on Friday). And playing indoors helped, too."

O'Shea is certainly likely to be more inclined to test his kicker's strength, given that was the whole reason to move on from Justin Palardy, who in the four previous seasons, was the organization's most-accurate field-goal kicker ever, at 82 per cent.

Communication is constant, as well as important, Hajrullahu said.

"Before each game we go through our routines, when we get out there and I tell him which way and how far and where we need to get the ball and that information gets passed on to the offence in case we do need something at the last second, to get the ball past a point," he said. "It varies in each game, depending on how you're feeling, how the wind is.

"Any way I can help the offence, I'm willing to do so and that's what we did on the weekend."

As for his pronouncing his name (it's hah-roo-LAH-hoo), unlike his kicking, it continues to puzzle many, including his teammates.

"Probably by the end of the season we'll get that done," he chuckled.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2014 D2

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