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May 29, 2009

Herzlich hopeful, but return to field unlikely

Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich was supposed to be preparing for a senior season of glory. Instead, he is battling for his life after being diagnosed with cancer May 14.

Herzlich, 21, recently finished his first round of chemotherapy in his fight with Ewing's sarcoma, which is a rare cancerous tumor.

"Physically I feel great right now," Herzlich said by phone. "It hasn't really negatively affected me too bad. I have had only one round so far and I didn't feel much nausea.

"I am supposed to go through another round on Monday. I am just feeling a little tired right now. The treatment cycles last for about two weeks and vary in length."

Herzlich's ordeal began after Boston College's spring game April 25. He felt pain in his left leg and also noticed some swelling. He didn't fuss about it at first; bumps and bruises are part of doing business as a 6-foot-4, 238-pound linebacker who led BC with 110 tackles last season.

"I let it sit for a while," said Herzlich, a first-team Rivals.com All-American and the ACC defensive player of the year last season. "But when I got home after finals on May 10 or 11, I decided to get an MRI of my leg to make sure everything was all right. And the MRI found the mass. It is in my left femur."

The diagnosis was cancer.

"It was a shock, obviously," Herzlich said. "When we got the news, a lot of thoughts went through my head: 'Am I going to die or what? What's going to happen?' We then learned more about Ewing's sarcoma. It is very curable, about a 70 percent cure rate. Obviously, that's good.

"But there's also a 30 percent chance I won't be cured. That's a little scary."

Once doctors feel the tumor in Herzlich's leg has been sufficiently shrunk by the chemo, they'll remove it.

For now, Herzlich is going through treatments near his home in Wayne, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia. Once the fall arrives, Herzlich plans to return to BC to finish the final six classes he needs to graduate in December. He'll also continue his cancer treatment in Boston.

As for strapping on a helmet again

"Playing again is a goal," said Herzlich, who would have been a consensus preseason All-America selection and a top prospect for the 2010 NFL draft. "But from what the doctors say, it isn't very likely. Once they do the surgery to remove the tumor, it will be pretty damaging to my leg.

"I hopefully will be able to get back to recreational sports. They think football, intense physically activity, is out of the question. It very well could be, but there's still an inkling of hope there. If football ever does happen again, it will be in two years."

Look for Herzlich to be with BC this fall in some capacity as the program transitions coaches from Jeff Jagodzinski to Frank Spaziani. Staffers already have sent Herzlich film to analyze.

"I don't know yet what I'll be doing," Herzlich said. "I will be going to the city a lot for chemo. But I will do as much as I can to help my team.

"I have gotten a lot of support from my family, friends, football team and tons of people from around the country who I don't even know. It has been really helpful."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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