VANCOUVER -- The mispronunciations of his name have been almost as plentiful as its vowels and consonants.
But if you're going to mispronounce Lirim Hajrullahu, well, given the remarkable events that transpired at BC Place Friday night, Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive tackle Bryant Turner is probably as close as anyone to getting it right.
"I call him Hallelujah," Turner laughed Friday night in a jubilant Winnipeg locker-room following an impressive 23-6 Bombers victory over the B.C. Lions.
'It's like he has tunnel vision. His character -- he's just kind of oblivious to this whole thing, unless he's fooling us all'
"He says it's cool."
Just about everything these days is cool with Hajrullahu, the Bombers kicker with the uncommon name who went 5-5 on field goals Friday night, including a lifetime long of 51 yards.
On a night when the defences dominated and points were hard to come by for both teams, Hajrullahu's performance was decisive for the Bombers and simply added to a narrative the 24-year-old is writing in a rookie season that is already one of the best storylines in the CFL.
A child of refugees from war-torn Kosovo, Hajrullahu went undrafted after a university career at Western and seemed destined for regular work until the Bombers plucked him out of obscurity this spring and gave him the chance to win the team's place-kicking job in training camp.
Hajrullahu did just that, overcoming a strong challenge from University of Nebraska product Brett Maher -- who went on to land the kicking job for the Ottawa Redblacks and kicked six field goals of his own in Ottawa earlier this month -- to take down the Bombers' place-kicking and kickoff job.
But then, even as he was still settling into the place-kicking role, he suddenly had yet another job thrust upon him when regular Bombers punter Mike Renaud pulled a hamstring in the pre-game warm-up prior to a 26-3 Bombers loss to the Edmonton Eskimos on July 17 at Investors Group Field.
With Renaud out of commission, Hajrullahu has for the last two weeks handled field goals, kickoffs and punting for the Bombers. That's a lot to ask of a rookie, but he is handling it all with remarkable ease.
A clanged upright on a 44-yard field-goal attempt against the Eskimos is his only missed field goal in a season in which he is now 13-14 on three-pointers. And through two weeks, he is also out-punting Renaud and will carry a 44.5-yard average into next week.
Put it all together and Hajrullahu's young rookie season is quickly shaping up as one of the most memorable CFL debuts in a while -- although you won't catch Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea saying that.
O'Shea was muted in his praise of Hajrullahu here Friday night -- but it wasn't because he wasn't impressed. "I've done a pretty good job of trying to not talk too much about him -- and we'll keep it that way," explained O'Shea. "He does a great job of staying focused. I'd like it if you guys didn't ruin that for him."
O'Shea described Hajrullahu in a way that makes him sound perfectly wired for the role of a professional kicker. "I've said all along, he's pretty focused. It's like he has tunnel vision. His character -- he's just kind of oblivious to this whole thing, unless he's fooling us all."
Nope -- it's no act, Hajrullahu insisted Friday night. Asked what does rattle him if it's not having the hopes of a football team resting on his foot, Hajrullahu balked.
"If I told you, then people would know," he laughed. "You know what -- I'm just taking each kick one by one and trying to focus on each kick and trying to make each one, one by one. That's all it is."
Actually there is one other thing -- on the rare occasion Hajrullahu did make a mistake this season -- hitting that upright against Edmonton -- he says he parlayed it into an opportunity to get better, the fruits of which Bombers fans got to enjoy here on a 5-5 Friday night.
"It was good learning curve because I was able to make an adjustment from last week to this week and that's what helped me to make a 51 and 49 (-yard field goals) today."
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