Mark Herzlich's long journey to the NFL may have to go through Omaha, Nebraska with the Nighthawks of the UFL.
As Thursday, April 28 dawned upon the NFL universe, the hopes and dreams of many productive college players lay in the balance at Radio City Music Hall. From the unequaled personality of former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, to the relative anonymity of former Rice defensive end Cheta Ozougwu (2011's version of Mr. Irrelevant), 254 college players of all sizes, shapes and pedigrees realized their dreams of being picked in the NFL Draft.
Sitting attentively by his television, former Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich undoubtedly grew impatient with the draft process as he watched less skilled and less accomplished players receive phone calls from NFL teams while his phone lay silent.
Herzlich, rated as a three-star recruit by Scout.com out of high school in 2006, was thought to be a highly-touted NFL prospect as he was named to the 2006 Freshman All-American team by College Football News and the 2008 All-American team, along with the recognition of 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Forgoing his senior year at Boston College for the NFL draft was seemingly an option for Herzlich, as he was commonly viewed as a first- or second-round pick in the draft, but his plans were quickly altered due to his diagnosis of Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
The cancer sidelined Herzlich for the entirety of the 2009 season but did not kill his spirits as he pledged to return for 2010. Herzlich's return, though triumphant, illustrated the rust he had accumulated by missing an entire season, as he finished third on Boston College with 65 tackles.
NFL teams often cite character and intangibles as make or break qualities for NFL prospects, making Herzlich's free fall all the more puzzling. Admittedly, Herzlich may have ceded some talent due to the metal rod inserted into his leg, but his will to persevere, along with his proven track record, should have enticed an NFL team to take a chance despite his medical red flags.
The same undying motivation that brought Herzlich back onto the field at Boston College drove him towards his only football opportunity with the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks. The decreased talent level of the UFL did not prevent Herzlich from plummeting down their draft as well, as he was drafted in the 10th round, 51st overall.
The road to the NFL for Herzlich may take a detour through Omaha, Neb., where he will be teammates with former NFL cast-offs Cato June and Maurice Clarett, but his undeniable talent and his relentless will to succeed will only magnify the large chip on his shoulder.
With a strong heart, a football mind and a successful college career, Herzlich should earn a tryout at NFL camp once the lockout is lifted and though a tryout is not equal to being picked in the draft, all Mark Herzlich needs is 18 inches of daylight.