Austrian Bernhard Seikovits gets second shot at NFL with Arizona Cardinals

Bernhard Seikovits, 23, played with the Vienna Vikings of the Austrian Football League before becoming part of the NFL's International Player Pathway Program. Thomas Pichler/SEPA.Media /Getty Images

TEMPE, Ariz. -- When Arizona Cardinals tight end Bernhard Seikovits looks back at his path to the NFL, he thinks he should've been a little more patient, maybe even a little more objective.

Thanks hindsight.

The NFL wasn't on Seikovits' radar as he grew up playing for the Vienna Vikings of the Austrian Football League in his home country. Then the NFL invited him to its International Combine in Germany in the Fall of 2019. From there, he was invited to the NFL's International Player Pathway Program (IPPP) and started training at IMG Academy in Florida. But that opportunity was was cut short by the pandemic and he wasn't allocated to an NFL team.

He was disheartened but didn't let it put a damper on his new goal of playing in the NFL.

"If I would have looked at it a little bit more objective, maybe I would have said to myself, 'Yes, maybe it's going to be a two-year thing,'" Seikovits, 23, said. "But when I came in, of course I went in and I thought I did a really good job and I thought a team would pick me. So, I was, of course, really disappointed.

"But my family and my friends really lifted me up again after the decision and I really used this as motivation for the next year, so I really devoted the last year to get better, stronger and faster."

Seikovits, a former quarterback, transitioned from wide receiver to tight end after the NFL International Combine. The NFL wanted him to participate in the IPPP, which he started on Jan. 23, 2020, as a tight end because of his 6-foot-5 frame. They also advised him to start gaining weight, a recommendation he took to heart.

Seikovits went back to Vienna and honed his skills at tight end, getting help from his coaching staff. He was in the Vikings' gym every day and even built a weight lifting platform in a friend's garage so he could work out outside of the team's facility. It paid off. He's now 262 pounds and built like a tight end.

Vienna Vikings offensive coordinator Max Koessler adapted the offense around Seikovits, who played "sporadically" at tight end before last season.

"Just used him solely as a tight end to show give them a chance to showcase his skill set and try to coach him up as as good as we could," Koessler said. "And just to put some tight end plays on film."

Added head coach Chris Calaycay: "That was a huge part of our 2020 season is making sure that he was in that position to put that on film and work on it."

Seikovits finished the season with plenty of good tape to show NFL teams. He finished 2020 with 21 catches for 262 yards and four touchdowns in three games. His stat line from last season had him on a pace for career highs in all three categories.

Seikovits was given another chance at this year's IPPP and with a better grasp of the position, especially the schematics of playing tight end and improved techniques, he was picked, getting allocated to the Cardinals in early May.

Koessler, who's known Seikovits since he was about 11, called and just yelled into the phone with excitement. Seikovits will be on the roster until the end of training camp and then will be eligible for either a practice squad exemption for international players or the active roster.

"I couldn't be more glad to be honest that they didn't pick me last year," Seikovits said. "So, I think, however it goes in life, it always has a meaning, and I'm really glad I landed here.

"And I wouldn't have been here if, last year, they pick me so I'm glad how it turned out."

Seikovits, who took part in the Cardinals' rookie minicamp in May, isn't nervous about taking the field with veterans. The last two years have been building toward this moment.

"He's got great ball skills and great hands and great football awareness," Calaycay said.

Seikovits has a rare combination of size and speed. He can block like a tight end, move like a receiver and see the field from a quarterback's perspective. Add it all up and Seikovits may just have what it takes to make the team.

"He played -- and still plays the game -- through the eyes of a quarterback so route adjustments, change-ups in the blocking scheme depending on front movement was like second nature," Koessler said.

Seikovits' first throw as a quarterback was an interception but he recovered to throw more than 400 yards and six touchdowns that game, Koessler said. He played the position until the Vikings added Kevin Burke, an American quarterback who went to Case Western and played for the Memphis Express of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football before he was released and replaced by Johnny Manziel. Once Burke was signed by the Vikings, Seikovits asked to change positions so he could play, which set in motion his ascent to the NFL.

Still, the call from general manager Steve Keim to welcome him to the Cardinals made Seikovits a "little bit anxious."

He's watched plenty of NFL football, whether it was on local stations in Vienna or through NFL Game Pass. The 1 p.m. ET slate of games started at 7 p.m. in Vienna, prime viewing time. Seikovits knows watching hours of games won't be the same as seeing it up close on the field.

"It's gonna be more physical, faster," he said. "But, at some point, I think it comes down to effort and work ethic and how bad do you want it? And I really don't know. I never saw a live NFL game and I never practiced with the guys. I just saw it on TV. So, of course, I don't know what to expect, but I'm looking forward to it."

Calaycay thinks Seikovits' skill set will fit in well in Cardianls coach Kliff Kingsbury's scheme, creating mismatches for tight ends -- somewhat in the mold of former Cardinals tight end Dan Arnold, who's now on the Panthers.

Koessler thinks it may take a year or two for Seikovits to get his chance on Sundays.

Seikovits has been playing football since he was 9 years old, then flag football. He switched to tackle football a year later. Like almost every kid in Europe, Seikovits' foray into sports began with soccer but he didn't enjoy it enough to commit. He also tried swimming when he was about 5 because his father was a swimmer but it got boring to "look in the water for two hours."

The team aspect and physicality of football kept luring Seikovits further and further in.

"What I like most about football is, like, the physicality," he said. "You can do stuff you can really not do in real life, like you can hit people and you can just lose your mind, basically, sometimes.

"So, that really, is, like, I don't know, that really excites me."