When it comes to sports, feel-good stories aren’t exactly hard to come by. Some are better than others, but open up any door and you’re likely to find a cornucopia of hardship and success despite all odds.
Sometimes a story comes along that will blow you away; Mark Herzlich is that story.
With the latest injury to the Giants, the man who was once diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma—a rare form of bone cancer—is now in prime position for significant field time in his rookie season.
Herzlich has already won plenty of awards.
He was an All-American and ACC defensive player of the year in his junior campaign with Boston College, along with being the 45th-ranked college prospect. But that must feel like another life for the 24-year-old. His most recent prizes include:
● Disney Spirit award: given to college football’s most inspirational player or team.
● Nils V. “Swede” Nelson award: given to “the player who by his conduct on and off the gridiron demonstrates a high esteem for the football code and exemplifies sportsmanship to an outstanding degree.”
● An honorary Lott trophy: given to college football’s IMPACT player of the year; IMPACT = integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity.
● The ACC Commissioner’s Cup: given at the commissioner’s discretion. This is the first time it has ever been given to a student athlete.
● The Rudy award: given to a player who demonstrates exemplary character, courage, contribution and commitment as a member of his team.
● The ACC’s Brian Piccolo award: Herzlich is the first Boston College player to ever win the award.
He even recently won an ESPY for best comeback player. The question remained, however, could he ever get back to the NFL path he was so viciously torn off of.
It didn’t begin well for the 244-pound middle linebacker, as he went undrafted last April. He was selected 51st-overall in the 52-pick UFL draft, but did not sign. Well, he did sign, but with the New York Giants.
At the time, many likely brushed this off as simply a PR move to garner some good publicity. They would bring the guy in, run him around for a while and heck, maybe he’d even see some action in a preseason game. All this before they had to cut the roster down to 53 men, and he would be relegated to the practice squad.
What everyone on that sadly misinformed train failed to realize was the Giants are not a team to fall for feel-good stories. Jerry Reese would not have signed him for the publicity. If he didn’t plan to put Herzlich on the field, he would not have paid him. Herzlich is also far too driven, smart and just plain inspirational to allow his story to end that way.
So here we stand peering through the doorway of another NFL season, and Herzlich still inspires.
“I don’t think your story is ever over. When you talk about this story that’s actually my life; yeah, it’s a story, maybe the book is getting toward the end of the chapter. But that’s my life and that’s going to keep on going.”
The man is a living, breathing Hollywood script, and it’s only going to get better.
Say all you want about Reese’s lack of big-time moves, this signing will be one of, if not the best of the 2011 offseason. It could also be one of the best undrafted free-agent signings of all time.
Check back in five years, if I’m wrong—well, trust me, I’m not wrong.
Mark Herzlich: A real-time Hollywood script