Why you should pull for Mark Herzlich

 

Greensboro, N.C.—Preseason meetings are supposed to be about games. It’s supposed to be about whose team is going to be best, who’s going to start at quarterback, and all of those fun things that we like to talk about as we kick off the official start of college football.

But every now and then we have to be reminded that behind the uniform and the statistics and the TV coverage and the billions of dollars that are generated from college football, there are human beings playing this sport.

You meet a kid like Mark Herzlich of Boston College. You get a chance to sit with him in a golf cart for four hours and between shots, you get to hear his story.

And it’s a helluva story.

A certain clarity comes to life when you only have one goal. And this time last year Mark Herzlich was thinking about one thing and one thing only.

“I wanted to live,” he said.

You see, Mark Herzlich had his life all mapped out. He was the 2008 ACC defensive player of the year. In that season he intercepted six passes, more than any linebacker in the country. He thought seriously about entering the NFL Draft as a junior but he loved school and thought he could use another year of college football.

“I knew exactly what I was going to do,” said Herzlich. “I had a plan.”

During spring practice of 2009 he kept feeling this pain in his left leg. Maybe it was the workout schedule. Maybe he was sleeping on it wrong. But he figured it would go away.

It didn’t.

Mark Herzlich then got the news that a 21-year-old man entering the prime of his life should never have to hear: The diagnosis was Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that afflicts one out of 600,000 people. The survival rate is over 70 percent if it is caught soon enough. But if not, the cancer is very aggressive.

“It was like, whoa, everything I’ve been planning for has just been washed away,” he said. “I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I wasn’t smoking or doing any of those things that cause cancer. I sat around in my room for several hours and felt sorry for myself. But there it was and I had to deal with it. It wasn’t going to go away.”

Herzlich announced that he would not play football in 2009 as he fought the cancer with chemotherapy. He was told to forget about football because if he did survive, it was unlikely that he would ever be able to run again. That’s because the cancer had been found in his left fibula (the large leg bone beneath the knee) which had been considerably weakened. There is no way that it could hold up under the pounding of football.

Herzlich has several bands of many different colors on his right wrist. They tell the story of his disease and his recovery. A black one has the words: “Pray Until Something Happens.”

“Early after I was diagnosed someone reached out to me and told me to pray specifically for what you want,” he said. “So I prayed to beat cancer.”

He did. After months of chemotherapy, last October Mark Herzlich was declared cancer-free. Then he prayed to reach his next goal.

“I decided that I wanted a certain quality of life and that included being able to play football again.”

Herzlich has been medically cleared to participate when practice at Boston College starts on Aug. 9. He participated in drills during spring practice but there was no hitting. That will come later this summer. He can’t wait.

“I’m a linebacker. I hit people. That’s what I do,” said Herzlich.

But there are no guarantees that Herzlich’s left leg will hold up. He had surgery to place a titanium rod in the center of the fibula to give it more support. The doctors have done every test possible and say the leg is ready.

He has also been told that if the leg does break, the healing process will be very long. So there is an element of risk involved as he returns to football.

“The doctors say it’s ready. I say it’s ready. And now it’s time to try,” he said. “If a freak accident happens and it breaks, then I just have to a accept that. But I’m not going to walk away now.”

It is an understatement of the highest order to simply say that Herzlich has inspired his teammates.

“It didn’t seem like, emotionally, Mark ever had cancer,” said offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo, a Rhodes Scholar candidate.

Herzlich said that before he got cancer, he was guarded around people he did not know well. Now he wants to reach out to those people and tell his story. He wants to know them. He has joined forces with others to raise over $200,000 for cancer research. Regardless of how football turns out, educating people about cancer and sharing his story is something that he’ll do the rest of his life.

“You meet so many people whose lives have been touched by cancer,” said Herzlich. “It can be tough when the ones they love did not have a good outcome. It is the kind of shared experience that bonds people.”

Example: Our golf foursome on Monday also included North Carolina coach Butch Davis, who is also a cancer survivor. They had a lot of talk about, from losing their hair to losing their taste buds to the chemotherapy. “I had to put hot sauce on everything just to taste it,” Herzlich said.

So this season I am going to break one of my professional rules. I have always gotten along well with players but I was always taught that there needs to be some distance between a journalist and the people he covers.

But not this season. This season I’m pulling for Mark Herzlich. He has beaten cancer and now stands at the doorway of being able to play college football again.

Here’s hoping that he kicks the sucker down.

 

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62 comments Add your comment

Dog Dawg

July 27th, 2010
8:15 am

Great story! I wish him the best.

Old School

July 27th, 2010
8:16 am

Great story Tony, thanks. Mark’s a great inspiration and I wish the best of luck.

Go Dawgs!

Praise the Lord!

July 27th, 2010
8:20 am

We should all celebrate this victory!

defactodawg

July 27th, 2010
8:22 am

Tony,

Mr. Herzlich’s story is an inspirational one and I’ll be cheering for him as well. I hope he enjoys a season of good health and great plays but I am reminded of the former SF Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky and his horrific injury related to cancer.

Thanks for sharing this and revealing the human side of journalism. I look forward to reading your work all season long.

Ted Striker

July 27th, 2010
8:22 am

Thanks for sharing the story. I knew about him but these details were insightful.

Spike

July 27th, 2010
8:34 am

Great story, Tony. Spike will be pulling for him also.

dawg in mourning

July 27th, 2010
8:43 am

Tony, Sometimes you really get to the most real stuff out there.After all it’s only a game.In the grand scheme of things this boy seems to have beaten this and gets to enjoy his life.I’m pulling for him too.Great story,keep it up,I really do enjoy your thoughts every morning.

RomeDawg

July 27th, 2010
8:51 am

His story puts football in perspective. I will be pulling for him for the rest of his career.

Big Dave

July 27th, 2010
9:06 am

Nice story. I’ll be pulling for him this year and hope and pray he stays healthy on and off the field.

TommyJack

July 27th, 2010
9:08 am

TB is the best the da bidness.

#2 BAMA FAN

July 27th, 2010
9:10 am

Good luck in the future for the young man!!

Joey

July 27th, 2010
9:13 am

I’m pulling for him too, Tony.

Jake

July 27th, 2010
9:22 am

Tony, I see your back home in Greensboro,, Getting any home cooking? At least get some NC BBQ,, down in Lexington.

BCMike22

July 27th, 2010
9:28 am

Outstanding piece, Tony. Glad to have you aboard the Herzy Express.

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1eyedJack

July 27th, 2010
9:34 am

Here’s hoping he can realize his dream, from a two time survivor.

PMC

July 27th, 2010
9:37 am

Not to mention he is an engaging personality and an incredible football player. I hope his leg holds up and he gets to keep speaking to people from that platform. Seems like a fantastic human being and his story is very inspiring. In this sense Tony I think it’s ok to pull for the player to do well. I think everyone is.

FRED

July 27th, 2010
10:02 am

WAY TO GO KID YOU ARE ALREADY A WINNER NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS THIS SEASON.

Dr. Phil

July 27th, 2010
10:08 am

This is a great story, particularly in contrast to the UT thugs kicking an unconscious off-duty policeman. However, Herzlich should quit while he is ahead and go into coaching. Good luck to him, regardless.

Boogers are Salty

July 27th, 2010
10:14 am

Hell Yea, I like his style! Hot Sauce too :) !

help, I live in Ga

July 27th, 2010
10:25 am

Good story Tony. More of these please. You might have to stay in the ACC for them.

AC

July 27th, 2010
10:27 am

I will never root for anyone from BC. a lot of people suffer, that’s a fact of life.

GO NOLES !

Burdell

July 27th, 2010
10:28 am

Bring the heat Herzlich!! Looking forward to seeing him play again…he was a BEAST in ‘08! Said hello to him at halftime of the ACCCG last year (he won some award)…nice guy.

GO JACKETS!!

Burdell

July 27th, 2010
10:29 am

Yeah AC…no one ever accused a Criminole fan of being classy.

Lswho

July 27th, 2010
10:36 am

Question? Who paid for the young man’s round of golf? Ant NCAA violations here? Was a picture taken? Did he pay for his golf balls, food, apparell, and equipment?

Ormewood

July 27th, 2010
10:47 am

AC, classy. Don’t know why anyone would hate BC. Personally, I think it’s odd to have them in the same conference as all of the Southern schools, but fact is there is much to admire. It’s a quality school that consistently plays solid, if not spectacular, football regardless of who the head coach is. They don’t get the four and five star players a la your Criminoles yet always manage to put a quality product on the field.

I hope this guy has a great season.

Old School

July 27th, 2010
10:54 am

Ormewood, I don’t like using the word hate but there are plenty of Irish fans who dislike BC immensely.

XpatHeel

July 27th, 2010
11:01 am

Great story; glad you wrote him up, TB.

How did your foursome play? Butch hits it pretty good.
And, btw, as long as you’re on a run talking about cancer survivors’ stories, what about our own Robert Quinn. Recovered from a brain tumor found his Sr. yr. in H.S. Now, about to be POY in the ACC, and lock 1st Team AA.

Ormewood

July 27th, 2010
11:04 am

Old School, probably because BC typically gives Notre Dame fits.

Old Dawg

July 27th, 2010
11:06 am

Great story, thanks for writing it Tony. Not enough stories like this are published.

I lost my son to leukemia 11 years ago. The care, concern and devotion to his cause by countless people continues to humble and center me.

Keep the great copy coming and be safe on your travels, Tony.

Gatorzip74

July 27th, 2010
11:27 am

AC
Normally I don’t comment on ACC blogs/stories, but you’ve gotten my attention. I’ve been regularly commenting on this site for the last 3yrs and have never seen such a vile contribution, but coming from a Seminole fan should I expect less? I wonder if those are the same sentiments of Coach Bowden, my guess is probably not. But then again you’re probably the same person who would throw your iconic coach under the bus in hope of being a relevant team again.
If you can’t look past your infantile experience to make a comment of relevance than stay off the sight. I have done more than my fair share of blasting rival opponents, coaches and players that deserved it by breaking the law and/or other stupid acts. It is another to attack a guy that only wants to survive and maybe enjoy a little bit of life.
I believe that ACC football is on par with Florida HS football and I enjoy watching the even latter more, but I will tune OCT 16 when BC plays your team and for 3hours root for Herzlich to roll your thugs up.

Mark Herzlich

July 27th, 2010
11:48 am

Thank you Tony for the Great article. Great round of golf even though Steve and Coach carried us. Wish you all the best and thank you again.

Old Dawg

July 27th, 2010
11:52 am

AC: There’s a special place in hell for you. We all support different schools and say crazy things when our spirits are up, but when someone suffers and struggles with a life-altering disease we should all become a member of the team that helps each other through those struggles.

Like I wrote in my earlier post, I lost my son to leukemia 11 years ago. Throughout his journey and in the years since, people of every denomination, faith, ethnic origin and fab base have been kind and understanding. The display of such caring has held me and my family together and will continue to do so for the remainder of our lives.

What you’re forgetting is that football is simply a game. Herzlich’s story is about life.

You really need to change your life … there’s much more to enjoy and appreciate than the activities between the lines.

doug cupp

July 27th, 2010
11:59 am

Good story TB, I’ll be pulling for him too.

Chris

July 27th, 2010
12:07 pm

It’s a heartwarming story Tony and the kid was a ferocious ball hawk before he got sick. I hate to be the one to rain on the feel good article of the day but the phrase ’someone told me to pray really hard for what I want’ is irritating at the very least.
My little sister was born with a birth defect. I prayed very hard my whole life that other children wouldn’t be cruel to her with no success. I’m not an atheist but this whole notion that there’s a great weatherman in the sky who grants this wish, but not that wish (I’m sure Jim Valvano prayed hard) is absurd.

They caught the cancer early, treated it aggressively, he had to endure the hell that is chemo along with multiple operations. I hope he can be the former player he was and even play on Sundays if that’s his wish.
I just get really chapped at the ‘pray real hard for what you want’. God helps those that help themselves. Best to Mark and to all the people on here who have experienced this horrific disease and lend their own time to helping and caring for others.

yo

July 27th, 2010
12:16 pm

if this were a GT or FL player, you UGA hyprocrites on here at best wouldn’t say anything and most of you would be upset an article was written about a comeback Tech kid.

Old Dawg

July 27th, 2010
12:42 pm

yo: don’t know about the rest of the folks, but I wouldn’t do that. It’s too close to home.

Brew

July 27th, 2010
1:14 pm

Heard Mark on a radio interview yesterday. This guy deserves all our prayers and respect. Sounded like a tremendous person regardless of his athletic ability.

collegeballfan

July 27th, 2010
1:29 pm

As a cancer survivor I can identify with this young man’s struggle. And it is a struggle.

Nice piece of writing Tony.

D Paul

July 27th, 2010
1:35 pm

Nice story. Good reporting. from a BC fan

Jesse James

July 27th, 2010
1:44 pm

Great story and this is what we need to read more about. Great Kid and my prayers are with him. These kids like this deserve the coverage and not the thugs that are out there.

How2fish

July 27th, 2010
1:51 pm

yo I really doubt it this is a great story about a young man that has overcome a great obstacle , he will be in my prayers..yo you and AC will not be.Tony great story!

Dawg Fan in Barnesville, GA

July 27th, 2010
2:27 pm

Tony- I look forward to reading your articles everyday. And, I really enjoyed this one more so than any other I’ve ever read. I am a huge UGA fan but will be pulling for this young man and BC this year. There are some low life people in this world, as evident in some posts on this blog, but regardless of whom this young man plays for I’d be pulling for him no matter even if it is BC or if it were Tenn, Fla, or Tech. Keep up the good work. You are a professional!! Go Dawgs!

Hey, yo

July 27th, 2010
3:00 pm

Hey yo very classy post.

Wow you found a way to TRY and embarrass UGA fans. And all the while looking very childish and petty.

Ormewood

July 27th, 2010
3:12 pm

I nominate “AC” for biggest lowlife on this board. Does anyone second?

Delbert D.

July 27th, 2010
3:15 pm

The species homo sapiens is capable of incredible acts of cruelty.

WDEnATL

July 27th, 2010
4:02 pm

There are games and events and, then, there are men’s lives.

AC: you will get what’s coming to you one day. Truly antisocial comment.

lawzoo

July 27th, 2010
4:29 pm

Anyone who won’t be rooting for that young man to do great either doesn’t or shouldn’t have a pulse.

Nice story.

Mikey in SAV

July 27th, 2010
5:26 pm

AC, that was probably the dumbest remark I’ve ever read on this Blog, and that is saying a lot.
you are a moron.

Dbalcer

July 27th, 2010
5:36 pm

Great article. I root for my team but I always root for all the players to play their best and be healthy. Good sportsmanship is a lost concept these days. I never wish bad things on any team’s players even the teams that are my teams biggest rival. The classless calling of the other team’s players as thugs or criminals only shows the person who called the name lacks character. I hope Herzlich shines!