Moritz Böhringer’s mythical football journey approaching story book conclusion with Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns

There may be no more appropriate team for Moritz Böhringer  to play for than the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, but the six-foot-five, 250-pound offensive weapon may actually be more rare and impressive than the mythical creature from which they draw their name.

Böhringer’s life might seem like a story book for children, a lesson in reaching for the stars that any logical adult might scoff at, but the tale of the pro football player from tiny Aalen, Germany is very much real. Discovering the sport at 17 years old, Böhringer’s first team had just seven players and his second, the Crailshelm Titans, was buried in Germany’s Division 5. He beat the odds, breaking out with the Unicorns and becoming the first ever European drafted into the NFL directly from a European league.

Now, after five years on the fringes of the top league in the world, Böhringer is returning home and he hopes his new teammates at Schwäbisch Hall will see him as more than just the stuff of local legend.

“I hope that they don’t see me as this higher person that has to be looked up to but more as an equal teammate. That’s basically what I feel they should see me as,” Bohringer says, clearly uncomfortable with being given special status.

“If anyone needs help with anything, I’m definitely there to help them the best way I can. It’s not like I can guarantee them that they can do what I did but I can help.”

Few players may ever be able to accomplish what Böhringer did.

Aug 28, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Moritz Bohringer (81) during a preseason game against the San Diego Chargers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

After catching the eye of current Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Aden Durde, then helping guide the NFL’s International Pathway Program, Böhringer was invited to Florida Atlantic’s pro day, where he wowed scouts with sub-4.5 speed and tight end size. The raw prospect was selected 180th overall in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings and quickly realized just what he was in for.

“Rookie mini camp was fine because it was not as many people, but as soon as the whole team was together and you are at the end of the line, you’re just left saying ‘wait’,” Bohringer recalls of his first training camp with the Vikings.

“In Germany, it didn’t really matter where I played, I was always starting. That was the first time where I had to start all the way from the bottom.”

Böhringer spent the entire 2016 season on the practice squad and was re-signed for 2017, only to be released as part of the final roster cuts. He persevered through a year out of football, converting to tight end and landing on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad thanks to the International Player Pathway Program.

For Böhringer, that comeback is the proudest part of his short stint in the NFL.

“That was a big thing to me because it’s so hard when you’re on practice squad and then out for a season to ever come back,” he says proudly.

Böhringer spent the next two years on the Bengals’ practice squad and was released prior to the 2020 season. With his NFL options spent, the man who’s story is the stuff of myth is taking a remarkably practical approach, returning to Germany to finish his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Aalen University.

“The main reason why I came back was because I wanted to finish my school,” Bohringer explains. “I had to pass on that because the whole NFL opportunity came so suddenly and I want to finish that now.”

Moritz Bohringer playing in a preseason game for the Cincinnati Bengals Photo: Frank Victores/AP Photos

That meant turning down potential opportunities in smaller pro leagues. The CFL’s Global program may seem like a natural fit for a European player of Böhringer’s caliber and the XFL might have come calling, but Böhringer had interest in neither.

“If I want to play professional, then I want to play in the NFL and if not, I want to finish school and basically live and work a normal job afterwards,” he says matter of factly.

Returning to the more relaxed lifestyle of European ball while finishing his degree is another matter entirely and Böhringer was heavily pursued by a number of German teams, including those in the upstart European League of Football. The ELF has inked a number of European NFL alums but Böhringer opted to return to the GFL instead.

“I had conversations with a few teams and I could’ve definitely seen myself playing there, but every time I went to Germany, I went back to Schwabisch Hall and watched their games, even went to practices. So it just made more sense to go back home to where it all began,” he explains.

“I want to give back. Kind of like they helped me, I want to help them now. That’s my main goal. Just to show them what I learned in my five years and see if any of that can help them to get better as an organization. Maybe even get better at developing young players.”

Photo: Logan Bowles

Böhringer and Unicorns head coach Jordan Neuman are still discussing what his role in the offense will be in 2021 but whether it be in-line or out wide, he is sure to be explosive. In his lone season in the GFL before jumping to the NFL, Böhringer caught 59 passes for 1,232 yards and 13 touchdowns, adding 14 kickoff returns for 415 yards and two more scores.

The receiver is a much more polished player now, but Schwäbisch Hall will have to make the most of his talents while they’re around. Böhringer has just a year and a half remaining on his degree and a serious girlfriend in the United States that he hopes to return to after graduation.

That puts a time limit on Böhringer’s European return and he know exactly what he wants to accomplish with it.

“I definitely want to win the German Bowl because we didn’t do that that the year I played. That would definitely be the main goal,” Böhringer says, citing the Unicorns 41-31 loss to the New Yorker Lions in 2015.

“But for me personally, it’s not like I have any certain numbers that I want to accomplish. It’s more just the joy of playing football and having fun and then everything else will come from that.”

If the life of an unlikely football legend is a story book, perhaps that is the lesson we should all take away.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.