Giants running back Sandro Platzgummer runs with the ball during...

Giants running back Sandro Platzgummer runs with the ball during training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, N.J., on Tuesday. Credit: Brad Penner

Most of the players in Saturday night’s preseason opener against the Jets will be trying to make their case for inclusion on the Giants’ roster. One of them already took a huge leap in that journey this week.

Sandro Platzgummer has never played a competitive snap of football on this continent, yet his path to an NFL field has never been so direct. The running back from Austria who spent last season as the 64th man on the Giants’ 63-man roster and practice squad – they used an exemption through the league’s International Players Pathway program to keep him around – learned on Thursday that the rules regarding his status have changed. Last year, players who received that exemption were ineligible to be promoted to a practice squad or active roster. This year, they will be.

It doesn’t mean Platzgummer will be on the field for the Giants or any other team in September when the regular season games begin. Far from it. But it’s a crack, a little seam, that has been opened up to him. Isn’t that all any running back can ask for?

"’Living a dream’ is not even enough to describe what it would be like If I could ever get on a field and especially if I scored a touchdown," Platzgummer told Newsday. "It’s more than that. That would be huge. All the guys here, they can’t even imagine how big that would be for all of the people in Europe and all the people in Austria."

There have been plenty of Europeans in the NFL – former Giants defensive lineman Markus Kuhn of Germany was the first German-born player to score a touchdown when he recovered a fumble in 2014 – but Austria has not produced many. The last Austrian to play in a regular season NFL game was kicker Ray Wersching in 1987. The last Austrian-born player to carry the football as a running back? Peter Rajkovich, who played three games for the 1934 Pittsburgh Pirates.

The next step for Platzgummer to join that list comes Saturday in the preseason game. That’s when Platzgumer will play his first game in the United States. The Giants said they intend to give him reps in the contest both on offense and special teams. He played five seasons for Austria's Swarco Raiders Tirol and won two European championships with Austria's U-19 national team. This, of course, will be very different.

"I’ve been here for a year now and I haven’t really gotten a chance to get on the field at all," he said. "It’s going to be a blast, for sure… It’s insane thinking that the decision I made 18 years ago to start playing football would eventually take me here so far away from home. It’s incredible. I’m very glad I’m here for a second year now because it’s a new year and new opportunities for me. New challenges. And I’m ready for it."

More than he was last year. Platzgummer gained about 12 pounds of strength since he arrived in 2020, just ahead of the pandemic (he is listed at 6-0 and 198 pounds). He said he is more comfortable with the speed of the game and the playbook. He’s also refined his techniques for carrying the ball high and seeing blocks on the field.

"Not having preseason games last year was tough mentally, but it basically gave me a full year to learn the offense," he said. "I’m definitely more ready now for a preseason game than I was last year at this same time."

The Giants think so, too. That’s why he is still here. Last year they selected him from a list of players presented to him as the entire division took part in the International Pathway program. They could have easily moved on this year, but instead they re-signed him. They’ll still get the roster exemption if they want to use it. Platzgummer’s goal is for them to not.

It’s as if he has the immunity idol on "Survivor," the only player on the 90-man preseason roster who knows he’ll be sticking around this season in one fashion or another. It will cost the Giants very little money and no valuable space on the roster to keep him. But he’d just as soon forfeit that safety net for a chance at his bigger goal, especially now that the rules regarding his status have changed.

"Anything we’re doing I give it my best trying to make the team," Platzgummer said. "I want them to know that Sandro does such a good job they might not want to use that exemption on me."

Up until this week, any player who received a roster exemption through the International Pathway program was ineligible to be promoted to the practice squad or active roster. They were just bodies for the team during the week with no hope of moving up. That was Platzgummer last year, toiling away through each workout and meeting, knowing that it would never result in a promotion.

"It made it harder for me to get reps because they knew my status," he said. "They want to find out about the other guys."

He was the Austrian "Rudy."

This week’s tweak allows teams to promote a player from the exemption to the practice squad. They must remain there for three weeks, at which time they will be eligible to be signed to the active roster of any team in the league.

Platzgummer may not have played or even practiced much, but he brought something else to the running backs room last year: perspective.

"Just the way he looks at the game is different," nine-year veteran running back Alfred Morris said. "I enjoyed that. I’ve been doing this since I was two or three, playing since I was five in organized football, but it’s been really cool to learn from him."

Platzgummer said lots of friends and family back home in Austria have spent the last few days trying to find feeds to watch the preseason game on Saturday.

"It might be in the middle of the night, but I’m sure nobody will miss that game and I’m very excited for it," he said.

Platzgummer, 24, said he wishes he had made the jump to the United States earlier and played here at the college level. Instead, he played in Austria until the NFL invited him to one of its international combines. From there, he worked in front of scouts, then came to Florida to train, and then was allocated to the Giants last year.

Now he has the opportunity he has always wanted: not only to play on an NFL field against NFL players in a preseason game, but, thanks to the rule adjustment, to possibly work his way toward a regular-season appearance at some point.

"Once I knew the chance was there," he said, "I wanted it very, very much."

So do his teammates.

"I think we’re more excited for him than he is for himself," Morris said. "We joke but we’re serious: If he gets in the end zone we’re going to go crazy."

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