It is early to suggest Mark Herzlich for recognition as this year’s NCAA football comeback player of the year. But it really is difficult to see how any player could match the story of tragedy converted to hope converted to success that Mark Herzlich has lived in the last year. You don’t even have to like football to be drawn to and touched by this young man’s incredible story. If half of my family weren’t graduates of Boston College, I might have missed out on the remarkable and still unfolding story of Mark Herzlich, Boston College Linebacker.
You can really begin this saga anywhere you want. If you need background you can go back to Mark Heimlich’s hometown of Wayne, PA or his high school, Conestoga, and you might find some interesting stats that opened the door for Mark Herzlich to begin a college football career at Boston College. But the comeback story is best begun in 2008. I
In that year Herzlich , a junior linebacker for Boston College was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He had wowed the hometown fans, students and alums. He had also made his mark among the Division 1 teams of the ACC. To begin with week after week Herzlich had anchored and inspired a BC Eagles defensive unit that was surprising everyone and doing more than its share to help B. C. compile a 9-3 record and a berth to play in the ACC championship game.
Beyond the team and defensive units accomplishments, Herzlich was visibly piling up some very impressive individual statistics. According to Boston Globe statistics during the regular season Herzlich added up a total of 98 tackles and 6 interceptions. He became well known by every offensive team in the ACC, known and respected.
During that incredible year the hype started to build and there was lots of talk circulating among fans that it was likely that Herzlich would head the way of many Junior standouts – straight for the NFL draft. Instead Herzlich finished the season and began to focus on preparing for his senior year at Boston College.
In spring of 2009 the B. C. community was shocked with the announcement that Herzlich had been diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. All thoughts of football were shelved as Mark Herzlich took on the fight of and for his life with the support of doctors, family and friends.
On Sept 4, 2010, Mark Herzlich after a year of battling cancer, pulled on his BC jersey and headed out onto the field for what was a magnificent, if tear jerking, return to the game and team he loves. Even the presence of a stress fracture in his foot could not dampen the day or the moment for Herzlich, his family and his B.C. supporters who are legion.
The result of the game was a clear 38-20 win over Weber State for the Boston College Eagles. But before a play was run from scrimmage the sight of Mark Herzlich taking the field with his teammates had given Mark, his family and the entire stadium a spiritual lift that no game victory was likely to match. In just a little more than a calendar year, Herzlich had gone from cancer victim to cancer survivor.
Last year when the B. C. team played its ACC games, Herzlich could often be seen along the sidelines, his balding state showing signs of the chemo he was receiving , sill cheering on the B. C. squad. One opposing team after another stepped forward with donations to help fight cancer and Herzlich took up the cause of fighting cancer in a very personal, but low key way. Visiting patients, corresponding with fellow sufferers and helping to pile up donations that will be used in the ongoing battle against cancer. According to sources at Boston College the college junior brought in $120,000 and along the way was honored for his efforts with the annual Disney Spirit Award. There was little doubt that he was a force for cancer cure and an inspiration to those facing incredible challenges in their lives.
He’ll remember the support that he found among members of the sports community but there is little doubt that in every game he plays in 2010 he will do his best to tackle, intercept and defeat the opposition. Win or lose there are many people who are already hailing Mark Herzlich as the hands down favorite for NCAA comeback player of the year. I wouldn’t want to be his competition.