I love a story about overcoming challenges. They put life and the “possible” in perspective for all of us. One of my favorites involves a young football player whose story is still evolving today.
The best overall college linebacker I have personally watched is Mark Herzlich. How good was he? Dominant. In 2008, his junior year, he was a first-team All-American and the ACC defensive player of the year. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
Herzlich was a projected top five pick in the NFL draft but, instead, he choose to come back for his senior year at Boston College. Going into his final season, Herzlich was on the Butkus Award watch list, given to the top linebacker in college football. Then, suddenly, everything changed…
In the spring of 2009, Herzlich felt pain in his leg. He went for tests, then a biopsy. He was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer found in bone or soft tissue, that usually strikes young men. Doctors told him he may never run or even walk again, much less play football. Herzlich went from dreaming of playing in the NFL to battling for his life.
The way he has handled his diagnosis and treatment has been amazing and inspirational. He did not sit on the sidelines and complain, rather he jumped into action, coaching linebackers and raising money for cancer research. How good of a person was he? He was named a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award without playing a down and won an honorary Lott Award for college football’s Defensive Impact Player of the Year. He is only the second recipient of this honorary award, the first went out to the family of Pat Tillman, the former college and NFL standout who volunteered for the military and was killed in Afghanistan.
After many months of treatment, Herzlich announced a victory over cancer. He had a titanium rod inserted into his leg to get his strength back after cancer ate away at the leg bone. Despite doctors’ doubts of Herzlich getting back on the field again, Herzlich’s own fighting spirit pushed him forward.
In 2010, he made his college football comeback. Althought he did not play up to his 2008 standards, he had a good year and improved every game. He wasn’t drafted due to concerns over his health and the rod in his leg, yet the Giants signed him to a free agent contract because of the “potential” and “character” he displayed.
Cancer survivor Mark Herzlich makes the Giants 53-man roster.
Stephan Savoia / AP
Herzlich has received recognition for his athleticism and attitude both on and off the field. However, despite these accolades, the biggest award Herzlich has won is his battle against cancer, an inspirational fight for people all over the country. His strength, positivity and determination shows that the human spirit truly is a force to reckon with.