Former Seahawks C Kristjan Sokoli talks setting pro day records, playing for Tom Cable, and giving financial advice
Seaside Joe 1125: “Talking football like this, it reminds me of how much I love the game.”
Whether you need a center, a nose tackle, a defensive end, a left tackle, a workout buddy, or a financial advisor, trust me you should talk to Kristjan Sokoli. He is all of those things and then some.
Back in 2013, NFL scouts were suddenly flocking to the University of Buffalo to get a closer look at a potential diamond-out-of-nowhere by the name of Khalil Mack. And when Mack went to the 2014 combine, he solidified himself as a top-five pick by having better measurables that most humans in football history. But what may have shocked scouts more than finding a future All-Pro at Buffalo was realizing that he might not have even been the best athlete on the Bisons defense.
One year after Mack was drafted by the Raiders, former teammate Kristjan Sokoli posted better numbers at his 2015 pro day than we’ve ever seen by a player of his size in NFL Scouting Combine history. Among those weighing at least 290, only Mario Williams jumped higher; only Williams, J.J. Watt, and Tristan Wirfs had a longer broad jump; only 20 players have had a faster short shuttle; only 12 had a faster three-cone; and only 17 were faster in the 40-yard dash than Sokoli’s 4.86.
As an athlete he’s part Steve Hutchinson, part J.J. Watt… and that may have also been part of the problem.
Becoming an NFL player has a lot to do with work ethic, strength, athleticism, size, and IQ, but you must also leave ample room for the factor of “luck.” Sokoli had never played offensive line before when the Seahawks drafted him in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft and not only did Pete Carroll tell him that they wanted to move him to offense, they wanted Kristjan to learn the most difficult position on the line.
Thankfully, Seattle was getting a player who would have been willing to get the coffee if what the Seahawks needed was somebody to go get coffee. Sokoli put forth his best effort to become Seattle’s “center of the future” but when the opportunity came up to continue his career with the Colts—but as a defensive end—that’s when the carousel between the two sides of the ball and a bad luck streak prevented him from consistently hanging onto a 53-man roster spot with a team.
“My agent said at the time, ‘NFL careers are fragile, you have a small window of opportunity where people know you and will give you a shot, let’s try to get you a shot at defensive line,’” said Sokoli on today’s episode of the Seaside Joe podcast. “That’s a decision we made, we went to the Colts, and it didn’t look like we made a bad decision. I was activated to the roster as a defensive end for the last two games of the season. Then the GM got fired and I got cut in June. That was bad luck. I’ve had good luck in my career, that was one of the bad dealings.”
Sokoli has literally played in all three phases of the game to keep his career aspirations alive, and not even a torn ACL with the Giants or a two-year career at Merrill Lynch has stopped him from reaching for his next NFL opportunity.
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for football.”
After stints in the spring league and the German Football League, Sokoli has recently starting training as a left tackle with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL, a team that opens its season on April 17th against the Michigan Panthers on NBC. But as a versatile player with an unparalleled work ethic who loves football even more than finance, Sokoli hasn’t given up his dream of getting back into the NFL.
“Talking football like this, it reminds me of how much I love the game. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for football.”
I was fortunate to get to talk to Kristjan Sokoli for over an hour on Friday and we went over his experiences of working with Pete Carroll and Tom Cable, what prevented him from becoming a center with the Seahawks, how he set modern records for big man athleticism, and why it’s important to have an open dialogue with loved ones about how much money you have. Watch the full interview on YouTube and check below for more links and highlights from our chat this week:
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How did Kristjan become such an amazing athlete:
“You gotta start with genetics. I have to thank mother nature and my parents. It was a combination of things. I’ve always been wiry and intense. It started at Bloomfield High School. Combination of this training with my high school training was intense.”
“College strength and conditioning to me the next level. I was skinny coming out of high school and a lot of I-AA schools wouldn’t offer me. They thought I was an offensive lineman. I guess they were onto something.”
“You either lean towards getting bigger, faster, stronger or injury prevention. You can’t do both. I benefited from going “bigger, faster, stronger.””
On his Albanian roots and learning work ethic from his parents:
“My mom and dad. Everything they did, they did it with such intensity and detail. My mom was a stay-at-home majority of me growing up, and she did it at such a high level. She did this because she wanted to. It carried over. My ancestors have so many stories of hard work, living through communism, living in the mountains. It gave me a lot of drive and motivation to represent my last name well. We all have our strengths.”
On what held Kristjan back from making the Seahawks in 2016:
“I think it was the playbook, to be very direct. I picked it up, it was well enough to make the roster the first year as a backup. The second training camp, I wasn’t consistent enough with my play and a lot of that came down to the playbook. I knew it, but not enough. The game is very tough, it happens very fast. I made too many mental errors in training camp. They also drafted a second rounder, fourth rounder, and sixth rounder at interior offensive line. Joey Hunt, Germain Ifedi, Rees Odhiambo. I didn’t make enough of a case to be one of those nine or ten guys. They thought I needed more time to develop as a center, especially the mental part. Center is the toughest position on the offensive line, mentally.”
“Being consistent in my play could have helped me there.”
On moving around the league and the football field:
“My agent said at the time, NFL careers are fragile, you have a small window of opportunity where people know you and will give you a shot. Let’s try to get you a shot at defensive line, that’s what you’re most natural at. That’s a decision we made, we went to the Colts, and we didn’t look like we made a bad decision. I was activated to the roster as a defensive end for the last two games of the season. Then the GM got fired after the season and I got cut in June. That was bad luck. I’ve had good luck in my career, that was one of the bad dealings.”
“Defense felt like the back of my hand.”
“Saints: We know you want to play defense but we need a guard. Do you want us to sign you or do you want to go back home?”
“I’m definitely taking the defensive line opportunity, it came easy to me.”
On his Tom Cable experience:
“Very positive. He’s a very intense coach. I could see how not everybody could adapt to his style. I bought in 100-percent, I liked his coaching style, I enjoyed spending time with him as well. Me, Terry Poole, Mike Flood, and Tom had a weekend fishing trip to Alaska. I like his coaching style. He had a certain methodology with offensive line, more aggressive with the run than the past. What happens is pretty different than what you see on TV. There’s times when it’s the QB’s fault but you think it’s the offensive line’s fault, and vice versa.”
On the Seahawks atmosphere in 2015, after back-to-back Super Bowls:
“The atmosphere is definitely different. You can feel that with winning teams. You can’t fake it. I don’t know that Seattle has lost that either. They don’t have it like they did four or five years ago. But they’re also not going 4-12 every season. Seattle is still a winning team and I think draft picks are still thinking “This is the Seahawks. Pete Carroll is a winning coach.” You’re still a winning team.”
“Great energy in the locker room. You don’t want to be too much of a player’s coach.”
On Tyler Linderbaum and being a great center:
“Consistency. Mentally and emotionally. Center, you can be great for two plays, but if you’re bad on the third, it doesn’t matter.”
On Tyler Linderbaum: “Nice aggressiveness there. Sliding right, man to the left, sees nothing there, comes back right. He’s got good body control.”
On quitting football too soon:
“Once I knew the Giants weren’t re-signing me, I was very discouraged and I wanted to move on. It was premature. I worked at Merrill Lynch for two years and then last year I got a chance to play in the spring league, no payment, and I signed up in a heartbeat. Talking football like this, it reminds me of how much I love the game. I was doing fine after football but the opportunity to play again was something I couldn’t turn down. Going to Germany, then the USFL.”
On the Practice Squad Life:
“Everyone wants to be the best at their position but just to be on the practice squad is 99-percent of it. Everything else is one-percent. What a beautiful thing to get to play football for a living. To do anything at such a high level… I’ve enjoyed that with other things too, being around a group of financial advisors at Merrill Lynch, I felt that. Being at Masterworks, I felt that. The best at what they do. To me that’s cool, being around people doing something at a high level. If you’re a third-string QB, you’re working with Aaron Rodgers, and he’s one of the best in the world at what he does. You’re also being coached by some of the best in the world.”
On sharing your finances with loved ones:
“Money is not talked about at home as much as it should be. We should talk more about money. With your family, in your relationships, your wife or your husband. It always threw me off: People in a relationship don’t know each other bank accounts. If I’m dating someone, I’m gonna know exactly your checking and savings and you’ll know mine too. It reflects your behavior. Money is very intimate. I had my fun too. I’m not perfect. I didn’t invest at DOGE coin at the right time. I never went for the home runs. That’s what people should do in investing: hit singles. Real estate. You should know it, you should learn it. If you’re not going to know it, there are great ways to invest passively. Are you active or passive?”
“Money is a representation of how disciplined you are. Do you make more than you eat?”
“There’s no secret sauce.”
On the USFL:
“A month ago it didn’t seem like I was going to get a shot. I was lucky that 2-3 weeks ago I got a call from coach Gordie Shaw, a great offensive line coach, that they were going to draft me to play offensive line. I’m playing left tackle with the 2s. I’ve played all five positions on the offensive line now. Honestly, I feel really good about playing left tackle. I’m excited to show my ability.”
Why NFL teams NEED a guy like Kristjan Sokoli:
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for football. I was fortunate to fall in love with something so immensely. I kind of committed my whole life to it. I love the game, I’ve been fortunate to play in the NFL, so just the opportunity to keep playing in the USFL is awesome. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for another opportunity in the NFL. I think I have a lot of playing days ahead of me. I’m extremely fortunate to come back and play football.”
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Great interview! I remember the buzz about the ‘Four Sigma’ at the time and was rooting for him. Disappointing that it didn’t quite pan out for Kristjan either the Hawks, but great insights from him and glad he is still playing the sport he loves.
I mean... we're looking pretty thin at tackle right now, so...