Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, who was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer this spring, is returning to classes this week and hopes to play for the Eagles again next season.
Herzlich, the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Butkus Award as college football's top linebacker, will finish his radiation therapy this week. The 21-year-old still faces five rounds of chemotherapy, but his doctors are encouraged by the early results of his treatment for Ewing's sarcoma.
Herzlich said an MRI exam following two months of chemotherapy showed only a small tumor in his left femur. There was no tumor in the soft tissue surrounding the bone, he said.
"Things are going really well," Herzlich said Wednesday. "The goal right now is to get rid of the tumor completely and to be healthy. That's the goal right now and they're encouraged that's what's going to happen."
Herzlich, who has one season of college eligibility left, was initially told by doctors that he would not be able to play football again. But Herzlich said he hopes to play for Boston College in 2010 and possibly in the NFL after college. Last season, he led the Eagles with 110 tackles, six interceptions and had 13 tackles for loss.
"That's my goal," Herzlich said. "Obviously, I'm not going to play this year because of the chemo. But I'm going to spend a lot more time in the film room and will do more mental learning. I really want to come back next year and pick up where I left off."
Herzlich said doctors have told him they'll have to see how his left leg responds to radiation before they can discuss his football future. Other than losing his hair, Herzlich said the treatment really hasn't affected him physically.
The 6-foot-4, 238-pound native of Wayne, Pa., hasn't lost much weight and continues to lift weights and keep himself in shape.
"It's been all right," Herzlich said. "The weeks that I had radiation and chemo on the same day were tough. The chemo makes you tired. My hair is gone, but other than that I've stayed the same.
More than anything, Herzlich said he is happy to be returning to Boston College again. He needs to finish four classes to earn an undergraduate degree in marketing and hopes to graduate in December.
"I can't wait to get back," Herzlich said. "This is the first time in three years that I wasn't up there year-round. It will be nice to get back up there with the fellas."
Herzlich said he'll be cheering for the Eagles from the sideline when they open the season Sept. 5 against FCS opponent Northeastern in Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
"It's been tough so far," Herzlich said. "The toughest part was having them go through camp while I was here. But I'll be able to be with the guys and can encourage them from the sideline. To be in that stadium full of fans is going to be great."
Mark Schlabach covers college football for ESPN.com.