BOSTON -- Mark Herzlich was coming off an incredible 2008 season, having emerged as one of the nation's best college linebackers. It seemed all he had to worry about was whether he should turn pro or return to Boston College Eagles.
Herzlich stayed in school. But when he made that decision, he didn't realize what a great support system he'd just put in place.
This past spring, Herzlich, projected by many to be an early-round NFL draft pick if he had left school early, was back in Wayne, Pa., when he felt pain in his leg. He went for tests, then a biopsy: It was Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer found in bone or soft tissue.
"It feels like forever ago," the 22-year-old said this week. "It was a tough day. Obviously we were completely surprised. I came home and laid in bed for like two hours and contemplated everything. Then I kind of got the realization that it's just another stepping stone I have to get through. When I had that attitude instilled in my brain it was only moving on from there."
On Saturday, Herzlich was on ESPN's "College GameDay" set, as his Eagles teammates prepared to host Florida State Seminoles.
Surrounded by cameras, classmates and Eagles fans, he was able to tell the story of his latest medical update.
Herzlich said he and his father, Sandon Herzlich, were talking casually on the phone, when his father mentioned that he'd spoken with Herzlich's doctor.
"I was like, OK, so what did he say?" Herzlich said. "And he goes, 'Well, he looked at your MRIs, and he said he's about 99 percent sure that the cancer is completely gone.' "
Herzlich, who had begun radiation and chemotherapy near his home in the Philadelphia area before returning to school to resume classes and workouts in September, continued his treatments in Boston. He has three more treatments scheduled.
"The only reason [the doctor] wasn't 100 percent is because he hadn't done a biopsy," he said. "My next stepping stone is to get the leg strong again, get back in shape and start playing basketball and doing that stuff to try and get my wind back and everything."
When he got back to campus in September, he knew exactly where he wanted to be -- to Yawkey Center, a student-athlete facility where he could go unnoticed even by Boston College coach Frank Spaziani.
"I got here on a Sunday," he said. "We had one day off before we could move into our dorms. I saw all the coaches. Coach Spaz didn't even know I was in the TV room."
Herzlich said being back on campus was the right place to be.
"Once my friends started to go back to school, I wanted to be back at school with my friends here," said Herzlich, the 2008 ACC defensive player of the year. "Being part of the football team was probably the biggest part. Being welcomed back into the football team the way I was can lift anyone's spirits."
But it hasn't been easy for Herzlich to be back with the team: It also reminded him that he wasn't able to play.
"I think the hardest time was my first Friday back because Fridays are game prep," he said. "We watched some highlight videos of clips of last season to kind of get ready and I was in a couple of them, so that was probably the toughest part, knowing you're not going to be playing."
But when BC heads out of the tunnel for its ACC matchup with the Seminoles, it'll be Herzlich leading the way, as he did in the Eagles' opener against Northeastern Huskies on Sept. 5, four days after his birthday.
"I knew I was going to be one of the first people coming out of the tunnel because that's what I always do," he said. "I'm not going to change anything now."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.