Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Here's A Guy You Root For - By Dan Wines

  His story's been documented and detailed.  ESPN's Tom Rinaldi broke out his favorite quiet voice for an inspirational piece about his determination and heart.  In May of 2009, emerging Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma.  In one sentence from one doctor, dreams of playing on Sundays moved to the distant back burner.  A somewhat charmed life became a public battle with a monster that ends lives, let alone careers.  Typically, by the time Ewing's is diagnosed, it has spread to other parts of the body.  As with any form of cancer, once it begins migrating, survival rates become bleak.  For Herzlich, the cancer was treatable, but his football future was cloudy.
  In the piece by ESPN, Herzlich was asked if he'd play football again.  Simply, but profoundly, Herzlich responded with a nod of the head, "Yes sir. I am."  Amazingly, despite having his strength and energy zapped by the chemo, Herzlich managed to continue working out.  He kept his weight up.  He remained the inspirational face of the BC football program.  He traded his face paint, uniform and pads for khaki pants, a golf shirt, and towel.  Continuing to lead his team out of the tunnel at Alumni Stadium, Herzlich prowled the sidelines with the same intensity he had between the hash marks.  Cancer pressed pause on his playing career, but it couldn't quite tackle his will.  On October 3rd of that same year, in front of the Boston College faithful, Herzlich updated his prognosis on live TV.  Nuumber 94 was cancer free. 

  His journey back reached it's summit on September 4th, 2010, when he led his teammates through the BC banner in a season opening victory over Weber State.  Again he looked like a short haired version of The Ultimate Warrior, and again he'd take the field for the Eagles' defense.  While his senior season didn't meet the statistical standards he set prior to his diagnosis when we he was named the 2008 ACC defensive player of the year, it did put an exclamation point on his comeback.  He had soundly defeated the toughest opponent he'll ever face.

  I bring this up now because this week is the annual dog and pony show the NFL has named the scouting combine.  Aspiring prospects are picked apart at every level.  Character concerns come to the forefront.  Some players surprise, others disappoint.  Money is made at the scouting combine for those who leave incredible numbers on someone's stopwatch.  Draft stocks rise and fall based on the battery of tests these kids go through.  In recent years, players like running back Chris Johnson, and tight end Vernon Davis have gone from virtual unknowns to hot prospects and first round picks.  This year, Mark Herzlich took the next step in leaving cancer in his rearview by participating in the combine.  While his 40 time didn't wow anyone, and his overall performance isn't likely to make him a day one draft pick, he did show his peers and the deicision makers representing his future employer that he is indeed back.

  His long term health will be a question come draft day, and some teams will certainly shy away from him after a poor showing in the 40 yard dash.  Herzlich's instincts are great, as his is size (6'4, 240), but there will be questions.  He'll have to battle to become a starter in the NFL.  Will he be a 4-3 defensive end, or a 3-4 outside linebacker?  Can he handle the workload of a 16 (or possibly 18) game NFL schedule?  The experts seem to think Herzlich is likely to be drafted somewhere between the 4th and 5th rounds, a far cry from the sure fire first rounder he was projected to be prior to his cancer battle.  Odds are, those experts are right.   While answers to those questions will come in due time, for the time being, only one stat really matters.   Mark Herzlich 1, Ewing's Sarcoma 0. 

  During that interview with Tom Rinaldi in 2009 Herzlich said, "When I picture beating cancer, and I picture my fight through all this, the end result is me running out of that tunnel."  When the current labor dispute is settled and the NFL season begins, regardless of which tunnel he runs out of and which jersey he dons, I will be rooting for Mark Herzlich.

Follow ManCaveBP on Twitter

No comments:

Post a Comment