From Austria to Arizona: Cardinals TE Bernhard Seikovits’ arduous NFL journey

Jan 27, 2024, 12:56 PM | Updated: 1:13 pm

Arizona Cardinals tight end Bernhard Seikovits’ pathway to the NFL was unconventional as can be.

Growing up in Vienna, Austria, he was an undecisive kid. He tried swimming, soccer, basketball and handball but ultimately started playing flag football at nine years old after taking the advice of his childhood best friend.

His pal’s dad grew up in Florida where he was exposed to baseball and American football while working as a cook. After his friend’s dad put his son in flag football, Seikovits later followed suit. But it didn’t last long.

“And then after a year, I got bored,” Seikovits told Arizona Sports’ Cardinals Corner on Thursday. “And I was like, ‘So this is not the real football right?’ And then I went (and) played real football with the Vienna Vikings. And ever since I played football.”

His tenure with the Vienna Vikings lasted much longer. He played for the Vikings’ junior team from the age of 10 and eventually joined Vienna’s senior team in the Austrian Football League.

During his 13 years with the Vikings, he achieved tons of success. He made key contributions to help the Vikings win the Austrian Football League title in 2017 when he compiled four receptions for 133 yards, three touchdowns, six extra points and a field goal in the championship game.

He later led the Vikings to the championship game the next two years. And while his team lost both finals, his play gained enough attention to earn an invitation to the NFL’s International Combine in Germany in the fall of 2019 and later the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program (IPPP). He spent the following months at the IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton, FL in what was his first visit to the United States.

However, he was not selected as one of the final four players to be allocated to an NFL team.

But he didn’t give up his dream of wanting to play in the NFL. The former quarterback turned wide receiver transitioned to tight end and started gaining weight and reps at his new position.

“I want to prove that I can play in the highest league and I want to prove that there’s a lot more people back home that can do that,” Seikovits said. “So you have to come over here to do those kinds of things. Because back home, the football is just not the same.”

Seikovits never imagined he’d be in America playing football. He came from a country where soccer is preferred as the dominant sport (Seikovits said due to the opportunity to earn more money) and from a country where there is a lack of elite coaching and competition.

And then came the challenge of transitioning to multiple positions.

“I had a lot of change in my career back home,” Seikovits said. “So college football was never any real possibility because I never really played a position long enough to be like, ‘Hey, I play this position. Do you need me?’ So yeah, I kind of had this scratched off my list. And then IPPP came along.”

Seikovits returned to Austria and used the 2020 season to hone his skills as a tight end and to gain the necessary footage of him at his new position. He totaled 21 catches for 262 yards and four touchdowns in three playoff games which gave him another chance at going stateside.

Seikovits was assigned to the Cardinals as a part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program in 2021. The program allowed the Cardinals to use an offseason roster exemption on him for three seasons while gaining an extra practice squad spot.

And while the Austrian has already been with the Cards for the maximum three seasons on an international exemption, the NFL announced changes to its International Player Pathway program last September that now allows each team to have an international player on the practice squad starting in 2024. NFL practice squads will also increase to 17 players next season.

Earlier this month, Seikovits signed a reserve/future contract with the Cardinals that will become official when the new league year begins on March 13.

But even though Seikovits has spent the last three seasons with the Cardinals via the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, his time in the NFL has produced its own challenges.

He has not played in a regular season game.

“It’s tough, obviously, because you sacrifice a lot to be here,” Seikovits said. “(I) sacrificed so much and obviously deep inside, you know that you can do it just as well as anybody else. And so you want to get the opportunity and stuff like that. But you also know that it’s a journey, and it’s a road you have to kind of be patient on. So that’s it’s a back and forth in my head.

“It’s been a ride. It’s been a journey. I’m trying to do the best I can. And that’s really all I can do. So that whenever the opportunity comes, I’m ready.”

Seikovits has been part of two coaching regimes and has noticed a sharp contrast between Kliff Kingsbury and Jonathan Gannon’s time at the helm. The tight end emphasized under Gannon there’s a new willingness and ability to make mistakes in order to grow.

“I feel like the culture and the climate in the facilities are more like, we are here to teach you, the people we have, we want to make better, obviously, there’s going to be some changes in the roster and stuff like that,” Seikovits said. “But the people we have in this room, we want to make better and we want to teach him, coach him.”

Despite not appearing in a game, he has received the backing of the coaching staff and believes his time will come eventually.

“They told me I could play. But yeah, the time just hasn’t come but it will eventually. So as I said, I’m working hard to get ready.”

And despite the lack of game-action he still believes he’s grown as a player since arriving stateside. Because he grew up playing quarterback and receiver, he never had to block for anyone and said he struggled with blocking when he first arrived in America. But his blocking is the area that he feels like he’s grown the most in since.

“So when I first came over here, I couldn’t block really well,” Seikovits said. “But that’s the role I got put in because of the way I look. So that was a struggle my first year. But then my second year, I felt like I was getting really good at it. And now I feel comfortable doing it. And I accepted it as my role even though I always was like, ‘No, I can catch the ball too.”

And Seikovits still feels like he has more room for growth. The 6-foot-5, 262-pound Seikovits emphasized his goal for the current offseason is to become even larger.

“I want to get bigger, faster, stronger and become a more dominant football player.”

Seikovits said the primary objective of the IPPP is to get more people to play football outside of the United States and cited Las Vegas Raiders fullback Jakob Johnson, who is French-German, as “a huge role model back home.”

And while now with the new rule change there’s more of a chance for international players like Seikovits to get elevated to the active roster this upcoming season, there’s no guarantee it’ll happen, much like for all of the other international players.

“But we’re all kind of trying to prove something here because all of them got rejected or denied at some point,” Seikovits said. “We all have that chip on our shoulder and we all are trying to prove something together.”

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From Austria to Arizona: Cardinals TE Bernhard Seikovits’ arduous NFL journey