Former UB Bull Kristjan Sokoli transitions to NFL after being drafted by Seattle Seahawks
Kristjan Sokoli’s football career will continue in a Seattle Seahawks uniform. And he plans on keeping it that way.
The former Buffalo defensive lineman was selected in the sixth round by the Seahawks in May’s NFL Draft and later found out he would transition to the offensive side of the ball. Although he never took a snap at center during his football career, it is a challenge he is looking forward to.
After all, the switch will only help in his only goal in his future with the NFL.
“I’ve got to make the 53-man roster and go from there,” Sokoli said. “I’ve always looked at something as one play at a time. Right now, I have to prove to these coaches that they were right in drafting me.”
Sokoli has roughly two months of NFL experience under his belt but already understands that an NFL career could be short-lived. Sokoli has spent the last month preparing himself for the rigors of training camp and his goal of making the 53-man roster. But in the process, Sokoli hasn’t forgotten to savor the moment.
The experience began on the third day of the NFL Draft, May 2 – a day Sokoli will never forget.
Surrounded by family and friends, Sokoli received a phone call from the Seattle Seahawks to inform him of his selection – a moment that he couldn’t even put into words.
“I’ve been waiting for that moment all my life,” Sokoli said. “I’m just so grateful for the opportunity and I plan to make the most of it. The call was very exciting, very emotional. It was like everything came together at one moment.”
In his first days as a Seahawk following the draft, Sokoli walked to the first team meeting and was accompanied by a familiar face: head coach Pete Carroll. Sokoli said the conversation heading toward the conference room was a casual exchange that exemplified the experience of being in the NFL.
Carroll told Sokoli to enjoy every second of the experience because “it will be over before you know it.” It immediately resonated with Sokoli, knowing his professional window could be narrow. Sokoli made it a point to bask in the moment from the first day to however long he is with the team.
And so far, he’s done just that. In his time in the NFL, Sokoli has had multiple conversations with players he watched in the past two Super Bowls, and has become a routine occasion for him. One of his favorite memories was taking snaps for the first time from quarterback Russell Wilson.
But beyond the star-struck rookie is a player that is ready to compete, even if it is for a position he has never played before.
After being informed of his selection, Sokoli was told he would be switching to the offensive line – a position he never consistently played before. Sokoli played nose tackle for the Bulls in his four-year college career, but never took a snap at center.
With his head coach’s words echoing in his head over and over again, Sokoli decided if he were to switch to offense, he vowed to become the best offensive lineman he could become.
The transition process has been “challenging” for Sokoli, and it’s not the physical demand of the position.
“It’s definitely not easy … Probably more of a mental challenge than anything,” Sokoli said. “But like anything else, it’s something new and it will take time to get it. I have great faith that once I get there, I’ll be a great center.
Rookie mini camp was Sokoli’s first taste of the NFL – a time to learn the ropes of the Seahawks organization and acclimate himself tothe players and coaches. In the weeks following, Sokoli took part in Organized Team Activities (OTA) workouts with the rest of the roster, where he met many proven NFL veterans, including Wilson, cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor.
During the workouts, his biggest help was a coach and a veteran lineman.
Sokoli trusts offensive line coach Tom Cable, who has been working with him in the transition period. When Sokoli was drafted, he spoke with Cable about transitioning to the position and what he expects for the linemen. Sokoli also credits veteran center Lemuel Jeanpierre in helping him with the mechanics of being a center.
“Not even moving from to the offensive line, but making the calls on the line was one of the biggest challenges for me, especially in rookie mini camp,” Sokoli said. “It’s been a daily process.”
Sokoli said there’s no better feeling than going up to the line, knowing the play and executing as well as he drew it up in his mind. In a camp filled with future hall of famers, league MVPs and decorated coaches, his most memorable experience was simply doing his job.
And doing his job is how Sokoli plans on fulfilling his dream of making the final roster as Seahawks training camp begins. His mind is cleared. He doesn’t get butterflies anymore when star players pass him in the locker room. Wilson is just his quarterback. One day he’ll have time to sit down and appreciate a game from the bleachers. He’s ready to go to work.
“As cool as it is to meet Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman and all these guys in the locker room, at the end of the day it’s about playing football with people you care about and giving it your best,” Sokoli said. “You only have a small window for however long you play football. Eventually it will end. It’s all about making the best of your career.”
Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.