Draft Spotlight: Mark Herzlich

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Boston College's productive, hard-working linebacker has a story to tell and doesn't mind sharing it.**

"Stay Up."

Mark Herzlich told himself that repeatedly while battling Ewing's sarcoma, a rare of form of bone cancer.

It caused him to miss the 2009 season, despite him entering the year as the ACC's defending Player of the Year.

But Herzlich persevered through it all. He returned to Boston College in 2010 and started in all 13 games. He finished with 65 tackles (50 solo stops), four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Now, Herzlich's primed to be selected in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Without "Stay Up," he wouldn't have overcome the difficult circumstance.

"My story is pretty public. I had issues. I had cancer," Herzlich said. "It wasn't a bad decision or anything along those lines. It's something that made me a better person. I'm happy to talk about it."

Unquestionably, the experience made him grow as a person and as a player.

The 6-foot-4, 244-pound linebacker is a firm believer in the power of positive thinking. And that mindset carried over in his preparation for the draft.

In Indianapolis, Herzlich was the subject of extensive medical testing. But he didn't worry much about it. After all, it was nothing like the chemotherapy and radiation treatment he received during his fight with cancer.

Instead, he put together a strong week of performances including his press conference with the media and in his field drills (4.91, 40-yard dash, 29 reps at the 225-pound bench press).

Some wonder if he'll ever regain his 2008 form, where he led the Eagles with 110 tackles, six interceptions, eight pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Herzlich thinks he's progressed fine since then, noting that he can lift as much now as he did before the cancer diagnosis. But in reality, he hasn't had the same luxuries of his draft-eligible competition.

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"A lot of these people don't understand I haven't had an off-season yet to get my strength back, to get my speed back," he explained.

"The gains I've made have been incredible so far. It's not on TV all the time. I envision progressing even more so next time I step on the field in an NFL jersey it will be – like, 'Wow he's at his best right now.'"

Perhaps, Herzlich was at his best in his lowest moment, beating cancer should never be taken lightly. It's just as impressive as winning any individual accolade or championship trophy.

"You don't change your core values or anything but you become a little more patient," he explained. "Sitting in a hospital for six hours a day you gotta become patient. I think my film study improved because that's all I did for a year."

It's one thing to be open about the situation; it's another thing to let it consume you. Halfway through last season, Herzlich began to forget all about what he went through and focused in on the details of football.

However, those tough experiences became move vivid during his time at the combine. With so many interviews with various teams taking place, the subject kept coming up. And each time, Herzlich dealt with it in a respectful manner, never shying away from the details of his past.

One thing is clear, Herzlich isn't looking for sympathy. He's looking for someone to believe in his abilities on the football field. Defeating cancer proves he's mentally and physically tough, but it hasn't changed Herzlich, the football player.

"I don't sit there in the fourth quarter and think, 'I beat cancer so I can do this,'" he said. "Throughout the year I went through chemotherapy and radiation those were tough times. That was as tough as it's going to get.

"So in the fourth quarter as tough as it is what are you doing? Playing football. I was doing something I love. Take every minute and don't waste it."

Beyond strong character, Herzlich brings toughness and athleticism to whatever team selects him. He intercepted a combined 10 passes in his last two college seasons, from a linebacker position nonetheless.

Pro teams have different opinions on where he's best suited to play in the NFL. Some look at him as a Sam (strongside) linebacker in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. Some have told him he can play inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. 

To Herzlich, the position he plays doesn't matter, just as long as he's able to showcase his wide-ranging talents.

"Not too many guys have the size to play outside in 3-4 and skill in pass coverage to play in the 4-3," he emphasized.

Herzlich's versatile background bodes well in his eyes. Not only can play different positions, he can pick them up quickly. Herzlich's speed in general was noticed by many, including his college coach Frank Spaziani.

"He's not very big on giving out compliments. It's a lot of tough love," Herzlich said. "But at the end of the season during bowl game time he said, 'You know, you're looking kind of fast there Mike. You're doing a little better.'

"Getting a compliment that I looked fast from him, that's good stuff."

No need to be bashful, that's great stuff.

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