Herzlich: 'The return is going to happen'

After about eight months of fighting cancer, Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich said he will rejoin his teammates for winter conditioning on Jan. 21, and it’s possible he could be cleared for full participation in time for spring drills.

“There’s no set timetable because no one’s done this,” Herzlich said. “The way it’s been progressing, I see myself being ready by then -- it’s a couple months away -- but if the strength, flexibility and mobility isn’t there, then I’m not jumping in when I’m not perfectly ready.”

Herzlich said his modified workout, which will enable him to participate in winter conditioning, will include a lot of biking to rebuild his cardio and leg strength. Herzlich had a rod inserted into the bone in his left leg as part of the surgery to remove the tumor, and the area around his knee tends to swell. He can get into the squat position, but has been limited to the stationary bike and jogging instead of running.

“Basically there’s a risk in crossing the street, but people do it all the time, and it’s kind of like the same thing with me going back to football,” Herzlich said, “There’s a risk but not really any more significant risk than if this didn’t happen. The return is going to happen.”

It’s a remarkable comeback. Herzlich, the ACC’s 2008 defensive player of the year, was diagnosed in May with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a malignant tumor most often found in bone or soft tissue. He said he’s not going to be content with simply returning to the field in 2010.

“I didn’t come all this way to be mediocre when I get back,” he said. “I’m going to come back and do it right and really work at it and be more dedicated than I was two years ago when I played.”

That’s a scary thought for opposing ACC offenses.

Refresher: Two years ago, Herzlich was a finalist for the Butkus Award, his six interceptions were the eighth most in the country and the most by a linebacker. His two picks for touchdowns was tied for best in the country. He led the team with 110 tackles and 81 stops, six interceptions, eight pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

It was around Thanksgiving when Herzlich's doctors told him he could play football again. In early January his oncologist encouraged him to start training and pushing himself again and told him he wouldn’t do any damage by working out. Herzlich said he still has checkups with his oncologist in Pennsylvania every three months that include an MRI and CT scan to make sure the cancer hasn’t come back.

“I always in my mind had pictured me playing again,” he said. “It hadn’t really become a reality until recently when the doctor said you can pursue your football career again. When I heard it come out of his mouth, that’s when it was really exciting and got me really motivated to keep working and get back at it.

“It’s been a nine-month journey where I’ve been told I can’t do it for eight of those months,” Herzlich said. “I have to keep in my mind to take it slow because why rush now?”

He still has a long way to go to return to his 2008 football form. Herzlich has started taking yoga to help with his flexibility and balance.

“I’m out of shape,” he said. “That’s obviously not a question. It’s going to take a little while to get back. I was playing basketball today and I feel like I took a couple months off of playing football, which I did. It will come back. I’m starting fresh.”

And with Herzlich back in the lineup, so are the Eagles.