Born in Albania, Kristjan Sokoli is the son of Albanian immigrants. When Kristjan came to America at nine-years old, he was an avid soccer fan. However, he later fell in love with football after he witnessed his cousin playing the game.
“I was really crazy about soccer,” Kristjan said. “At about 12-13 years old, I started watching my cousin play high school football. He played with a tenacity and aggression I really admired.”
With his cousin as his role model, Kristjan began to play football.
After a shining high school football career at Bloomfield High School in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Kristjan was offered a full scholarship at the University of Buffalo in return for playing with the Bulls. Kristjan originally heard about the University of Buffalo offer through his high school football coach, Coach Carter.
“I remember very vividly, he (Carter) calls me, he says, ‘Moose, Buffalo is going to call you in about five minutes. They’re going to offer you a scholarship.'” Sokoli recalled. He also recalled being very eager to accept the offer, especially since attending college was foremost in his mind. “Buffalo was telling me on the phone, we want you to come visit this weekend, make up your mind when you come here… and I’m just, ‘no sir, I’m committing. I’m taking this scholarship.'”
Sokoli claims he didn’t even know where Buffalo was, but a few days later he, his parents, and his brother, went to visit the campus. Kristjan fell in love with a beautiful snowy Buffalo in January, combined with the fact he was being offered a golden opportunity to play football and get a college education.
Although he had played a variety of positions in his high school days, once at Buffalo, Sokoli became a full-time defensive lineman. When he came to Buffalo, he stood at 6’5″ and weighed 220 pounds, however, by the time he was in his junior year, he had grown to 300 pounds. This is when he won a starting position on the defensive line.
“It was wild, but that was a college cafeteria, and getting into my age, I was turning twenty then,” Kristjan explained his weight gain. “Zack Duvall did a great job with us there. He got us bigger, faster, and stronger. Definitely bigger and stronger. For a guy like me, honestly, that program worked.”
For two years, Sokoli was an integral part of a Buffalo pass rush which was led by future first-round draft pick Khalil Mack.
Sokoli’s college career led to him being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. However, the boost of being drafted into the NFL led to a challenge, as the Seahawks wanted Sokoli to play on the other side of the ball and switch to being a center on the offensive line. Kristjan accepted the challenge, but things did not work out.
“I wanted to make it work bad as hell, man,” Kristjan lamented. “Especially going into that second training camp, I just didn’t have a good camp. It just wasn’t consistent enough and I understood why they wanted to go in a different direction.”
Kristjan’s heart told him he was still meant to be a defensive lineman. “I’m meant to be a D-lineman… I have an attack nature, and an aggressive nature. That’s my mentality. I really felt my best chance was playing defensive line.”
From the Seahawks, Sokoli went to the Colts, Saints and then finally to the Giants… and an opportunity to make the team as a defensive lineman.
“I remained with the Giants throughout their GM changes and coaching changes in the off-season in 2018. I was having a really solid camp actually, and I tore my ACL on the first game,” Kristjan said.
“The first (NFL) training camp at D-line, fourth training game. I finally had a shot to play D line.”
Kristjan is quick to say that he doesn’t consider this to be a “sob story.” He still counts his blessings and points out he has had a lot of breaks in his life and, despite the setbacks, still considers himself to be lucky.
We all know that every setback can be followed by an opportunity, which is what Sokoli found, starting with attending an XFL Summer Showcase, and then being drafted by the DC Defenders in the open phase of the 2019 XFL Draft.
With training camps coming up Kristjan has turned his attention to preparing for football.
“I can’t wait. I’m excited, you know? Four weeks of training here, five weeks maybe before we go into mini camp training,” Sokoli said. “I just feel like I’m in a good place and I’m, I’m around good people and I’m just really excited for the opportunity and the ability to be able to focus.”
A nice superset from today’s work.
Sumo Deadlift & Front Squat pic.twitter.com/gxrQmQZZNi
— Kristjan Sokoli (@Kristjan90) November 1, 2019
“I left my job at Merill Lynch in good terms,” Kristjan said. “I plan to go back when football’s done. But to be able to say that for five weeks, I can just really dial in on football and football only, as a blessing. And to have good people in my corner.”
For now, Kristjan is back to focusing on football, however, he hopes to return to an investor job when football ends.
“I got to get my series seven, and I tested two days ago, and I passed that. So, I was really excited to get that done,” Kristjan said, referring to passing his test to become a registered financial representative. “I definitely plan to be back in that after football.”
Smartly, Kristjan has leveraged the Business Administration degree he received at the University of Buffalo into a budding career. In fact, when Sokoli got the news of being drafted to the XFL, he was driving home from a job at Merrill Lynch. Now, he has put his business career on hiatus, just so he can return to professional football.
He feels he could help young footballers invest their money, just so they have a nest egg after the football money dries up.
“Two or three-hundred grand invested wisely could mean $15-$20,000 a year for the rest of your life… and then as that money grows, it becomes $30,000 a year the rest of your life.”
Kristjan is not just a great football player. He’s also smart with money.
In respect to his football career, a good-natured Kristjan likes to point out a bit of trivia.
“I think I’m one of the very few athletes, I guess, with the privilege of being drafted twice,” a jovial Sokoli pointed out. “It’s very cool.”
To hear the entire interview with Kristjan Sokoli, check out Episode 9 of our XFL Xtra podcast.
Mark Nelson is a football fan, and founder and owner of XFLBoard.com since April 2000.