The Philadelphia Stars just made one of the most confusing moves I’ve seen in a long time. Just a day removed from All World Kicker Luis Aguilar converting on all eight of his field goal attempts, the Stars have signed a veteran kicker.
Aguilar wouldn’t be setting a precedent for Philadelphia if this is the end of the road for him. In fact he wasn’t signed until mid season last year after Matt Mengel won special teams player of the week and accounted for the majority of the points the team scored. He was then released and in came Luis Aguilar who had been nearly automatic since then.
On top of being the primary kicker, the Stars have never carried a third specialist opting to have their kicker handle punting, kicking and kick offs. This led to 20 kicking attempts by Aguilar this past weekend.
Per a source close to the team Luis Aguilar is “dealing with some lingering things”. Could it be fatigue or injury causing this move?
Regardless the Stars could have some very upset fans on their hands if they chose now to move on from Aguilar who started the season rough but has gone without a miss in three straight weeks including this victory that he was responsible for in week five.
No Spring Chicken, but Still an Alternative Football Veteran
The kicker signed by the Stars is no spring chicken, but he is a veteran of alternative football. Lirim Hajrulluha has been playing professional football for nearly ten seasons. Having gone undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Ontario, Canada native turned to the CFL.
He landed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the first two seasons of his career and won many team and division awards along the way including; Winnipeg’s Most Outstanding Canadian, Most Outstanding Special Teams Player, and Most Outstanding Rookie. He also won Most Outstanding Special Teams Player of the Year for the Western division.
As a rookie Hajrulluha converted 40 of 46 field goals, made 31 of 32 extra point attempts and handled punting duties averaging 43.8 yards per punt as well. In 2015 his performance fell off dramatically. He would convert just 22 of 32 field goals, converting just 15 of 21 extra point attempts, while punting 20 more times. This led him into free agency and away from Winnipeg.
This time he latched on with the Toronto Argonauts where he would spend the next two seasons. Hajrulluha rebounded from his sophomore slump and managed another strong season making 37 of 42 attempts, and 32 of 34 extra points. This was whole handling 112 punts, averaging over 43 yards per punt. In year two with Toronto he attempted a career high 58 field goals converting 47, but was perfect on extra points with 36 conversions. He also maintained a 44 yard average per punt. He would finish his Argonauts career in style as he made a game winning kick in the Grey Cup to propel the Argos to a championship victory.
Free Agency Following A Championship Victory Proves Fruitful
In 2018 he moved on once again this time to Hamilton. The Ti-Cats were happy to bring in a true triple threat as a specialist and save an extra roster spot. Over the next two seasons Hajrulluha attempted 109 field goals converting 93 of these kicks, and added 67 extra point conversions on 74 attempts. He also managed to average a career high 45 yards per punt in 2018.
Covid Provides Opportunities
The 2020 COVID shut down killed many careers, but for Lirim it actually opened up opportunities for the kicker who had never been signed by an NFL team to this point. With COVID causing issues across the NFL, the Rams, who have a long history of looking at alternative football players brought him in on their offseason roster after he had been attending and kicking at the NFL combine for years. He would ultimately lose the competition with Sam Sloman who just so happened to attend the same college has Sean McVay.
However this was the beginning of more NFL chances for Lirim Hajrulluha whose family had fled Kosovo due to the war 21 years earlier. With the Rams cutting him he looked to The Spring League and played with the Generals under Bart Andrus. This was where many former CFL players, and future USFL players landed for the 2020 fall season due to COVID shutting down most other alternative football leagues.
Could Lirim Hajrulluha be Partially to Blame for the USFL?
This led to more NFL chances as he would be signed by the Carolina Panthers practice squad, only to have Work-Visa issues get in the way. After these issues were corrected the Panthers brought him back once again. This led him back to TSL for 2021 again on the Generals. In their first televised game on FOX, the partnership that grew into the USFL, Lirim Hajrulluha showed the United States how good he could be. He hit a career long of 59 yards, and converted all 5 of his attempts.
This again led him back to the NFL this time with Dallas. Dallas who now employed John “Bones” Fassell the former Rams coordinator who had seen first hand what Lirim Hajrulluha was capable of.
Originally the Cowboys had used Hunter Niswander as their punter and emergency kicker as another former Ram Greg Zeurlein was hurt. However they opted to release him and bring in Lirim Hajrulluha, this was short lived with Hajrulluha lasting just five days in camp before he was again released. Less than 3 weeks after being released the Cowboys brought him back once again on the practice squad where he stuck for a week as a precaution. Dallas again brought him back in November when Zeurlein, who couldn’t catch a break tested positive for COVID 19. Hajrulluha would in turn see his first NFL regular season action due to this, and end up converting all 5 of his extra point attempts. Two weeks later the Cowboys bid Lirim adieu.
However even though it was late November, Hajrulluha still managed to find time to sign with two more teams before the season came to a close. First he landed with Washington, then Carolina brought him back, signing him away from Washington’s practice squad after an injury to Zane Gonzalez. He would suit up for three games and play well. He went 4 of 5 on field goals, and 3 for 3 on extra points. He was a free agent after the season and opted to return to Dallas once again.
Back with Bones
Dallas this time gave him every opportunity to win their kicking job. First he was brought in to compete with Jonathan Garibay, before Garibay was released and Brett Maher was signed. Maher and Hajrulluha were made to compete for the rest of training camp, the battle would be won by Maher who went on to have a solid season. Hajrulluha, wouldn’t receive any other NFL offers and hadn’t gotten a call yet in 2023 leaving him available to reunite with his former TSL Head Coach. With Luis Aguilar coming off of a very heavy workload, perhaps this is a precautionary move. However Hajrulluha is the better punter overall, and has a long history of not succumbing to fatigue from handling all of a team’s kicking duties. Could we see the Stars move on from another special teams player of the week in back-to-back seasons?
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