Bernhard Seikovits proud to represent Austria and Europe in NFL International Pathway Program

The NFL will be presented with some tough choices in the coming weeks as only four of the 11 International Pathway Program (IPP) athletes will be selected for a spot in one of the league’s eight divisions.

With athletes coming from all over the globe and a wide range in football experience there is a diverse pool to choose from. One of the deepest groups is without a doubt the tight ends, which features former DI hoopster Sammis Reyes, who has received significant buzz due to his raw athleticism and an impressive pro-day at University of FloridaReyes‘ performance at the pro-day was so impressive that Washington Football Team decided to snag him up before IPP could conclude.

But overlooked has been proven football stud Bernhard Seikovits. Bernhard is proud of his football beginnings as he was baptized in one of the strongest football programs in Europe, the Vienna Vikings. His football journey began when he was nine years-old, playing flag football in his hometown of Vienna before moving over to contact a year later.

We sat down with Bernhard last week who had this to say about his football story:

Of course, growing up in Austria you never really think of making American football your number one priority and trying to make money out of it. I changed to [contact] American football because I just wanted to see the real deal, and I fell in love immediately right after the first. So, I went through the youth program of the Vienna Vikings, played a couple of positions, played quarterback most of the time growing up, also played tight end, linebacker, kicker, so played special teams, offense, defense, had the whole experience. And after I changed from quarterback to receiver when I was 19. I realized that I wasn’t only good as a quarterback I also was, like, a decent athlete. Three years into playing receiver the NFL reached out to me. They invited me to the combine in Cologne.

Bernhard Seikovits and Sammi Reyes awaiting their turns at NFL International Pathway Program Pro Day Photo: Lemar Griffin

After dominating European football last year as a big bodied receiver, Bernhard was invited to the IPP but was unsuccessful in his endeavour as weight was a concern with him hovering in that awkward space between receiver and tight end; he was asked to make the move to tight end.

Yeah, so I did the best I could to be ready last year but it didn’t quite work out, it was just, I guess, too much, too much to do in that short time span. I got called in December to go over there and by March I should have been ready, which is three months to put on 15 kilos [35 pounds] of good muscle and good weight, which is kind of hard to do. I look like a tight end now. Like I walked in the gym the first time here and the strength coach saw me again, he’s like “Hey Seiko you look like a tight end now.” That was cool and just, just the quickness and speed, like, running the routes, not so much the 40 yard or the pro-agility. I mean, that improved too, but the important thing is the on-field stuff. And I just feel quicker in and out of my breaks.

The 6’5 255 pound Austrian is also keen to put European football on the map, paving the way for other international athletes to make it through the IPP. Bernhard made this clear in the way he spoke about his new-to-football counterpart Sammi Reyes:

So, of course Reyes never has played football, or tight end, so I put it on me a little bit to help him, because I feel like I’m just a more experienced guy and we are a team right here because we want to improve the international game and we want to show that we have international players, that doesn’t matter if they play basketball or playing football or whatever. So I just took it on my shoulders to help him. And I think he did a pretty good job to learn fast. And He improved a lot, he’s athletic, so the on-field stuff came easy to him for most of those things. But yeah, I think in the classroom I helped him a lot. It also helped me because it’s the same thing in school when you know how the homework should be done and another kid asks you, ‘hey can you help me with the homework?’, then you go over it again. Some things you don’t think about in year 13 of football, but he’s asking the basics, like what are hashes and so you learn it all over again, which is quite nice.

Bernhard Seikovits playing for Team Austria in game against Sweden in 2018 European Championships Photo: Jari Turunen

This year the pandemic changed the way IPP operated, it changed the dynamics in which the 11 athletes trained together and bonded. The Florida based IMG Academy had originally been assigned to the WNBA for off-season work-outs but was transformed into an isolation gym and training facility for the IPP athletes. 

Yeah, I feel like this year we’re a brotherhood, even though it’s COVID and we are not able to eat together most of the time. Last year, like that was the number one bonding situation where we just ate together three times a day, and conversations happened. This year, not so much but, somehow, still we got really tight, develop good friendships, friendships I think will stand the test of time and I think we will be in contact for a long time and root for each other.

The program did a really good job. I mean of course IMG makes it easy because it’s just such a big facility with so many resources. We always had our own field, we were alone. No risk there, we had our own gym. The only thing that changed was last year we had stuff like yoga and the Forts Institute, they tested on blood and stuff, so we didn’t have that. But we had the important stuff, the field of the gym. We had no issues with it so I cannot complain.

Bernhard plans to go back to Vienna in the coming days where he will stay in shape by doing individual drills with his old team, the Vienna Vikings.

All you need to do is put the tape on to see what a dominant force the 23-year old was in Austria, with the extra weight and speed it will be hard to imagine him not in the running for one of the four spots come April 30th.

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who works in journalism and communications in the third sector. Daniel began playing football for the London Warriors and Team Great Britain and has since played across Europe.