Albanian Potsdam Royals DL Kristjan Sokoli forged his own path to the NFL
Kristjan Sokoli # 74 set to block for Potsdam RB Jake Mayon Photo: Obotzki
Very little Europeans have the chance to prove their skills in the National football league.
Although many have the opportunity to grow up in the we and learn to play football, not many people go on and reach the level to play professional football. This is where Kristjan Sokoli’s story is unique. He was born in Albania and at the age of five saw his father leave for America to find a better life for his family. Then, three years later, he saw his mother leave to join his father. A year later, after the couple fought for Kristjan and his younger brother to join them, he arrived in the United States.
Not an easy trip, but according to Sokoli a necessary one.
âIt’s not easy, but I give a lot of credit to those who sacrifice for themselves and their families to have a better life. And luckily my dad did. I was 8 years old when my mother also went to America. My mom’s dad passed away and it actually helped her move to the United States. She was able to stay and continue to fight for citizenship with my father. And luckily, they won this fight. It had been about 3 or 3.5 years since I was separated from my father, and a year from my father and mother together. But when my brother and I also moved, we slowly got acclimated to the American way of life and language. “
Sokoli was 13 when he discovered football. As he relates, he admired his cousin Edmir who played football in high school.
âI was very drawn to the energy and the physical intensity of the game. That’s what led me to play football. However, the transition from high school to college football was a big leap. That’s why we had a red shirt year where we were able to adapt and become real players. Around the middle of my sophomore year I started to feel like I could play with the other guys I was on the pitch with.
After an impressive academic career at University of Buffalo, 2015 has become a pivotal year for Sokoli. He was selected 214th overall by the Seattle Seahawks and also debuted this season in the National football league become the first Albanian player to have never taken the field in the NFL.
âBeing drafted by an NFL team was more than a dream than a goal for me. I gave it my all and it came true. I remember having an early dinner with my family at home and celebrating when I was selected. It’s nice to enlist around your loved ones. It was the biggest jump for me in terms of speed. The game accelerated immediately. I think the Seahawks are really a cut above a lot of other teams. They have a unique culture and have done a great job as an organization. The fans are fantastic. In one game, 50,000 Seattle fans would sound like 80,000 from another team. When it’s the third, they scream and stomp. It’s almost like an earthquake. Quite intimidating and I was lucky enough to experience it.
Nevertheless, life has changed for the Albanian player in many ways. He joined Seattle as a defensive end but switched to an offensive lineman. Changing positions can be difficult for any player in the NFL. Although there was no one Seahawk he was grateful for the opportunity.
âIt definitely changes your life, especially in a good way. You go from a hungry underdog to a well paid player. But we have to manage this situation intelligently. You have to take it carefully and remember how you got there. This is what I want to say to those who will read these lines. Enjoy your success because you worked for it, but remember how you got there and keep those habits going.
After the Seattle Seahawks, Kristjan signed with the Indianapolis Colts, Saints of New Orleans, and the New York Giants spend varying amounts of time with each. In 2020, he joined the DC Defenders in the XFL and a year later he starred in The Spring League for the Alphas. This summer he returned to Europe playing for her very first European team, the Royals of Potsdam.
âI have to give David Saul, the manager of the Royals a lot of credit. His ambition was exceptional. In recent years, he has already reached out to me. To tell the truth, I was also interested in coming to Europe. I was still hungry for football. I had three years out of gambling due to my torn ACL, then covid. But now my body is fresh and I feel like I can play for another 8-10 years. Now I can’t wait to see what we’re capable of. The Royals have a good front line, we have great chemistry and the defense is also very solid. “
However, returning to Europe was different for him.
âI can see the difference in the lifestyle. It was difficult to adapt to the United States. In many ways, I am still Albanian to many Americans. When I arrived here I was very American to Europeans. Both will be a part of me. I’m proud of the opportunity America has given me and also proud of my roots and where I’m from.
Although Kristjan Sokoli still has good years ahead of him, he has also planned his life well after football. He graduated in finance with a natural interest in financial markets and the exchange of value for money. He also began to act. Kristjan Sokoli was featured in a film titled devil’s island and an upcoming film, The wedding trip. Sokoli also considers himself to be a great âgourmandâ. He never says no to a big steak or a burger. However, in Germany, he admits that he developed a fondness for baked foods and fresh pastries.
Watch Sokoli and his Potsdam Royals take on the Munich Cowboys on Sunday. September 19 at 4:00 p.m. CET (4:00 p.m., 10:00 a.m.ET), live on AFI.tv.