Austrian med student trying to make Giants roster

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Sandro Platzgummer isn’t your ordinary 24-year-old running back trying to make the New York Giants’ roster.

Platzgummer is in the fourth year of a six-year program to become a physician. He never played college football. He came out of a club program — in Austria. He’s one of those real long shots in training camp, and maybe that’s why his teammates enjoyed seeing him succeed this past weekend.

If you have any doubt, watch Platzgummer’s 48-yard fourth-quarter run against the rival Jets on a play that starts at the Giants 1. He takes the handoff in the end zone, sees the gap between the center and guard blocked, breaks the run around the right end and is tackled in front of his teammates near midfield.

The bench erupts. Players start jumping up and down and waving towels. There are smiles on everyone’s faces.

Star running back Saquon Barkley, who is coming off a major ACL injury and has been limited at practice, jumped about 4 feet in the air as if the Giants just scored a game-winning touchdown in a real game.

“He told me before the game if you have a big run and go to the end zone, I’m going to go nuts,” Platzgummer recalled on Tuesday.

Midfield was good enough for Saquon to show the knee is feeling a lot better.

Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett called the run spectacular, noting Platzgummer made the middle linebacker miss a tackle at the line of scrimmage, and got around a safety to break into the open field.

“For a guy like that to get an opportunity and then take advantage of it like that, it was really fun to see, and I think our players responded accordingly,” Garrett said.

Giants coach Joe Judge said everyone on the team likes Platzgummer.

“These guys in the program he’s in, as far as some of the overseas players, it’s always a different path for these guys, a different background,” Judge said. “I think these guys understand and recognize he’s far away from home.”

Platzgummer is in the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, which was restarted in 2016 as the “Undiscovered” program and changed to the IPPP the following year. It initially ran from 2004-09 to increase the number of non-American and Canadian players in the league. Teams get a special exemption in training camp for an extra player and they can keep that player on their practice squad all season, giving them 11 on the list.

This is Platzgummer’s second season with the Giants, and he is not just here to be on the practice squad again.

“I want to make the team. I think it doesn’t change anything,” Platzgummer said. “I’m going out there like it’s my last day every day, and that’s really how I do it. And whatever ends up happening at some point, that’s the final goal.”

Platzgummer said he has been playing football since he was a 6-year-old, joining his older brother, Adrian. His club, Swarco Raiders Tirol, is based in his hometown of Innsbruck and it is one of Austria’s and Europe’s top American football teams. The motto of the team is to play with heart, which is what No. 34 does.

Platzgummer has put his medical education on hold, for now. He has stayed in touch with administrators at the Medical University of Innsbruck and they have told him he can resume his studies when football ends.

Platzgummer eventually wants to become an orthopedist or a sports physician.

“Ever since I was a kid, I had a lot of minor injuries,” Platzgummer said. “If anything was ever injured, I would always look it up and try to find out how long it takes, what kind of diagnosis, how do we find it out. So that’s really what I’m interested in.”

For now, the Austrian is trying to work on another field.

There have been success stories in the international program. Fullback Jakob Johnson of Germany played in a regular-season game for the Patriots in 2019. Offensive lineman Jordan Mailata, an Australian of Samoan decent, played 15 games for the Eagles last season. Efe Obada of London spent the past three seasons with Carolina before signing with Buffalo in the offseason.

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