INDIANAPOLIS — It was in 2008 that Mark Herzlich realized he could have a future in the NFL.
After all, the Boston College linebacker had just finished a season in which he racked up 110 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and six interceptions. For that he was named a first-team All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Although he might have been a first-round pick in the '09 draft, he decided to come back to BC for his senior season Then, his world was turned upside down.
In May of that year, Herzlich announced that he had been diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Instead of preparing for his final year of college football, he now was in a fight to survive.
But Herzlich came through the disease with flying colors and did what few thought possible: returned to the field in 2010. Amazingly, he was able to play at nearly the same level he did prior to his debilitating illness.
"I don't think I lost a lot," Herzlich said Sunday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I think I gained every week. I don't know if you guys know (BC head coach Frank) Spaziani, but he's not very big on giving out compliments. It's a lot of tough love. But at the end of the season during bowl game time, he said, 'You know, you're looking kind of fast there, Mark.' "
The intense Herzlich started all 13 games in '10, piling up 65 tackles and four interceptions. And while his demeanor off the field might have been different after beating cancer, his attitude between the lines did not change a bit.
"My mentality didn't really change at all," he said. "Off the field I changed a little bit. I'm a different person. You don't change your core values or anything, but you become a little more patient. Sitting in a hospital for six hours a day, you gotta become patient."
While Herzlich is PFW's 11th-ranked outside linebacker, he's prepared to play wherever teams would like him to in the pros. The 6-4, 244-pounder actually switched positions during his time with the Eagles and has been told by NFL teams that he could work at a number of spots at the next level.
As for his health, he's doing as well as ever.
"I'm back to 100 percent," he said. "My times running are just like they were. My reps lifting are just where they were. So I don't expect to have any problems in the next couple days."
Herzlich might not be a first-round prospect like he was a couple years ago, but the fact that he will hear his name called at all on draft weekend should be an inspiration for everyone.