One of the many questions surrounding the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the off-season involved their kicking situation.
Who would replace Sandro DeAngelis, who had replaced Justin Palardy midway through the 2013 season, as the Bombers place-kicker? And would Mike Renaud be back for a sixth year as their punter?
With one week to go before the Bombers begin the 2014 CFL regular season, the questions have all been answered. So when the Bombers line up on June 26th to face the Argos at Investors Group Field in a game that launches the CFL campaign, Renaud will indeed be doing the punting for the Bombers and his place-kicking sidekick will be an unheralded rookie from Western University named Lirim Hajrullahu.
Hajrullahu has been one of the good stories at training camp. Signed on January 17th as an undrafted free agent out, Hajrullahu made an immediate impression when he first met with and worked out for GM Kyle Walters and new Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea.
O’Shea says he had a good feeling right away about Hajrullahu’s attitude and his abilities. Leg strength is a key attribute for any kicker and Hajrullahu immediately demonstrated his prowess in that area.
And he also projected an attitude of confidence and humility, both no doubt a product of fleeing war-torn Kosovo with his family when Lirim was just eight years old.
The Hajrullahu’s settled in St. Catherines, Lirim eventually transformed his childhood soccer skills into the sport of football while in high school, and after becoming the all-time points leader in Western Mustangs history, the Bombers decided he was worth a look.
Hajrullahu competed with American Brett Maher for the team’s place-kicking chores during training camp, and while there was little to choose between the two, both perfect on all their field goal tries, and both booming kickoffs down to the opposition goal-line, Hajrullahu’s Canadian passport gave him a vital edge.
So, when the 2014 CFL season begins, Mike Renaud will be the Blue Bombers punter. No great surprise there.
But, following the turmoil of the 2013 Bombers season, no-one would have predicted that when the Bombers kickoff to the Argos on June 26, Chad Owens will be catching the ball from an undrafted 24-year old from Gjilan, Kosovo via the University of Western Ontario, named Lirim Hajrullahu.