Long road for Herzlich led to the Super Bowl

After the 2008 NCAA season Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich was voted the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and named a 1st team All-American.  Herzlich was a monster on the football field that year for the Eagles, tallying 110 tackles to go along with 6 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.  NFL scouts projected Herzlich to be a 2nd round pick in the NFL draft if he came out after his junior season but Herzlich decided to go back to school, earn a degree, and try to improve his draft stock in his senior season in hopes of becoming a 1st round pick in the 2010 NFL draft.  It turned out that football was the least of Herzlich’s concerns the following year.

Mark Herzlich was the heart and soul of B.C.'s defense before the diagnosis

During the winter and spring months of early 2009 Herzlich experienced extreme discomfort in his left leg.  He would wake up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain.  In May of 2009 Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.  The initial prognosis was scary for Herzlich.  The doctors even discussed amputating his leg within hours of the initial diagnosis if the bone was damaged to the point where it would snap in two by simply walking on it.  Herzlich announced through the school on May 14, 2009 his diagnosis.  “Obviously, I was shocked. I had been extremely focused on preparing for my senior season at Boston College and for life beyond that.  Now, I must channel all that energy into facing my toughest opponent yet, and that is exactly what I will do. . . . At this point, I do not know what this means for my football future, but I am determined to rid my body of this disease so that I can put that uniform back on.  Thank you in advance for your prayers and concern.  Together, we will fight this and win.”  Football suddenly seemed like a pipe dream for a guy who was on the cusp of the NFL.

Herzlich’s course of treatment was aggressive chemotherapy and radiation.  Eventually he would have to undergo surgery to take out the infected bone and replace it with a cadaver bone which would seriously impair his ability to even be able to run ever again, let alone play football.  Herzlich kept going with the intense treatment and eventually the tumor in his bone had shrunk so much that the doctors gave him a choice – you can have the surgery or since the chemo and radiation was working so well you can roll the dice and forego the surgery.  After vast consultation with doctors, family, friends, and a lot of thought Herzlich decided to attempt to save his football career and forego the surgery.  Herzlich continued with his treatment and would go to a radiation session in the morning and then have a chemotherapy session in the afternoon and then another radiation session 6 hours after the original one.  He had to have a shot into his stomach at home, which he administered himself.  He was given chemotherapy intravenously, sometimes for 5 hours at a time.  He went through 7 months of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation and on October 3, 2009 after he was done with his treatment he went live on ESPN College Gameday from the campus of Boston College and announced that he was cancer free.  He was given a medical red shirt for the 2009 season and was eligible to return to B.C. for a red shirt senior season in 2010.

Herzlich went from hospital room to Super Bowl in the span of 2 1/2 years

On September 24, 2010, 16 months after doctors had told him that he may never walk again and if the cancer had spread he’d have a 10% chance of survival, Mark Herzlich led the Boston College Eagles onto the field for their opening day game against Weber State.  Herzlich recorded 5 tackles in the Eagles’ 38-20 win.  Herzlich finished the season by playing in all of B.C.’s 13 games and recorded 65 tackles and 4 interceptions.  He graduated from Boston College and headed to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine to realize his dream of playing in the NFL, a dream that looked all but crushed a year before.  Herzlich was put through the ringer in Indy with a string of medical tests and tough questions from NFL scouts about how his body and mind would react to what he had been through the previous year.  In the end NFL teams were scared off by the medical uncertainty and Herzlich was not picked in any of the 7 rounds of the 2011 NFL draft.  What was worse was that rather than getting calls from NFL teams immediately after the draft, as was customary for undrafted players, the NFL was in a lockout so the undrafted players had to wait until the lockout was lifted to find their new teams.  It may have been a blessing in disguise for Herzlich because when the lockout was lifted over 3 months later Herzlich’s medicals were standing firm and teams like the Eagles, the Ravens, the Patriots, and the New York Giants came calling.  Herzlich chose the New York Giants because of their strong ties to Boston College.  Co-Owner John Mara was an alumni, Head Coach Tom Coughlin was the former coach of B.C. and Herzlich would be able to play with fellow alumni Chris Snee and Mathias Kiwunuka.

Herzlich made the Giants out of camp and even started two games in the middle of his rookie season before a broken ankle put him on the shelf.  Herzlich practiced on a limited basis during the week leading up to the NFC Championship game against the 49ers and the two weeks of recovery since should give him a good chance to play in the Super Bowl.  After already having been through so much Herzlich hopes to play in his 1st Super Bowl at just the age of 24.  A win on Sunday would be nice for Herzlich but he’s already had the biggest win of his life when he beat cancer.  Everything else is just gravy but a Lombardi Trophy would make more some mighty fine gravy.

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About evonsports
30 year old sports enthusiast and aspiring writer from Boston.

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