Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year, had finished his classes for the semester and came home to Pennsylvania last Friday with some pain in his left knee and throughout his leg.
Herzlich went to see his orthopedic doctor, who requested an MRI because of the swelling in Herzlich's thigh. Upon receiving the results, Herzlich was sent to an oncologist in Philadelphia who informed him he has cancer. Herzlich, the Eagles' seemingly invincible leader who turned down the NFL draft to return for his senior season, was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a malignant tumor most often found in bone or soft tissue.
"It was kind of a shock," Herzlich said. "The first thing that blasted through my head was football, obviously, then once I realized how severe it was, football doesn't really matter right now at all to me.
"Basically all that does is my health and being able to live a healthy life for the rest of my life. If everything gets cured properly, and my leg heals up and everything is back to normal, then football comes back into the equation, but it's not really a concern right now."
Herzlich, like many of his fans, has been researching the cancer online. He said the doctors detected it early enough for the treatment to be "pretty successful" and that it hasn't spread out of his leg. He said he expects to learn more when he meets with an oncologist again on Tuesday.
"It can be pretty life threatening," he said, admitting he was scared but sounding calm as usual. "My doctor told me the cure rate is pretty high, but then again for some people, they take the chemo well, get rid of most of the tumor and can remove the rest of it with surgery. Some people don't take the chemo well, and then you have to rely just on surgery, which obviously brings down the chances. Some people react differently. It's basically waiting to see how the chemo goes, how the treatment goes, and how my body reacts to everything."
Herzlich, who led the Eagles with 110 tackles, six interceptions, eight pass break-ups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, said he told his closest friends and teammates first, and of course, coach Frank Spaziani.
"We all were stunned when we heard this news," Spaziani, the Eagles former defensive coordinator, said in a prepared statement. "Mark is a member of the BC football family and one of the most recognizable faces on our campus. From the day he stepped foot on our campus, he has been a leader on the field, in the classroom, and in the community.
"When people think of Mark Herzlich, they think of a fearless individual who is always ready to take on a tough opponent. His integrity, determination and focus are unmatched. I know he will face this challenge with that same attitude."
Herzlich said he had to get a biopsy on Thursday, and it required a needle going through a few layers of muscle to get near the tissue by the bone, so there is some pain in his leg, but nothing excruciating. He said he hopes to return to school next fall, but if not, in the spring.
"It's a little scary, but there are things in my life that have come and gone -- obviously not as big as this, but there are certain things you can learn," he said. "I've learned there are some things you can't control, and those are types of things I don't like to worry myself with because I can't control them. All I can control now is how I am mentally through the process. I hopefully can be a positive story in the end of this for people who go through this. It's really up to God and medicine how everything works out."
Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com.