American Albanian rugby player, Kristjan Sokoli

American Albanian rugby player, Kristjan Sokoli

After drafting offensive linemen with their first two picks Saturday, the Seahawks added another big man up front in the sixth round, taking former Buffalo defensive tackle Kristjan Sokoli with the 214th pick of the NFL draft.

Though Sokoli — who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds — played defense in college, the Seahawks listed him as a guard Saturday, apparently planning to play him on the offensive line. Sokoli told Seattle reporters on a conference call the Seahawks were the only team who had talked to him about playing on the offensive line, but he was happy to accept the challenge.

“I was open to the opportunity, I didn’t want to close the door,” Sokoli said. “As time passed, I went on an official pre-draft visit to the Seahawks as well, and getting to know (offensive line coach) Tom Cable through that, and also getting to know Tom Cable through a personal workout here in New Jersey, I really felt like it would be a great fit for me.”

Sokoli said he talked with Cable multiple times through the draft process, including about J.R. Sweezy, a defensive lineman at NC State who has blossomed as a guard for Seattle. He called his conversations with his new position coach “really genuine.”

“He really seemed like a guy that cares about his players,” Sokoli said, “and a great teacher, on and off the field. That got me really excited to potentially work for him, and now that it’s official, man, it’s unreal.”

A native of Albania, Sokoli emigrated with his brother to the United States at the age of 9, according to The Spectrum, Buffalo’s student newspaper. His father left Albania when Sokoli was 5 to seek political asylum, with Kristjan’s mother joining his father two years later. Kristjan and his younger brother, Mark, lived with an uncle in Albania, while his father collected the necessary paperwork to allow the kids to migrate. Sokoli did not speak a word of English when he came to America, but eventually settled in New Jersey and became comfortable with American culture.

Sokoli picked up football at age 13, playing at Bloomfield High School before getting noticed by Buffalo. In two seasons as a starter for the Bulls, Sokoli had 61 tackles (15.5 for loss) and 4.5 sacks in 24 games. He started one game during his first three seasons on campus, redshirting his freshman year in 2010.

However, Sokoli hasn’t played offense since high school, when he was a left tackle, defensive lineman, tight end, kicker and punter for Bloomfield. He joked that if the Seahawks wanted to make him their third-string kicker and punter, “I’d be happy to do it,” saying his field-goal range is “at least 50″ thanks to a soccer background.

While he won’t be counted on to kick, the Seahawks will likely look to Sokoli as a backup at multiple spots along the line early in his career. He may be seen more as a developmental prospect at this point, particularly as he tries to transition from defense to offense.

But that’s all down the road for Sokoli. For now, he’s just excited to be given an opportunity to make a name for himself in the NFL, and honor his home country in the process.

“I’m extremely appreciative,” Sokoli said. “To me, it’s about making myself proud, and also my near family proud, and also all the Albanians. We have so many hard-working, hard-boned Albanians who have been through so much, but they didn’t get to accomplish as much because the opportunities simply weren’t there. For me to come to America and be blessed with this opportunity, I just have so much drive and push to really do it, not just for my family but for my whole Albanian nation.”

Here’s what CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler said about Sokoli as a defensive lineman:

A two-year starter, Sokoli immigrated to the United States from Albania with his family in 2000 – didn’t speak English and his family struggled to make ends meet. He took up football and earned a scholarship to Buffalo, redshirting in 2010 and playing sparingly as a freshman and sophomore. Sokoli started every game the last two seasons, lining up mostly at nose guard, also playing some five-technique in the Bulls’ three-man front. He uses his long arms well to engage and lock out, but struggles with leverage and high pad level, not generating much power from his lower half. Sokoli doesn’t have ideal reflexes pre- or post-snap to react to the action in time, but he uses his length well to obstruct passing lanes (six pass break-ups in 2014). A tireless, blue collar worker, Sokoli doesn’t play with top-end functional strength, but he played out of position in college and shows the movement skills and size dimensions that are worth developing – underrated with upside.

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