New York Giants Linebacker Mark Herzlich Adjusting to Being in the NFL
Mark Herzlich has done more than deal with adversity in his school or in playing football. Truly, it's become the story of his life.
Since establishing himself as a leading linebacker at Boston College during his underclassmen years, Herzlich has gone on to surmount difficulty that makes playing football look easy.
In May 2009, at the height of his powers and having just come off a season in which he won ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Herzlich received shocking news.
He had been diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. It was as serious a moment as a college student can be presented with.
Fortunately, Herzlich was both lucky and determined in his fight against cancer, and was declared cancer-free that September.
The road back to football has been a remarkable one. He came back and played in 2010. And now, he finds himself with the New York Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent.
He could be a real asset for the Giants as they look for depth and youth at the linebacker position.
I recently spoke with Herzlich about life as a rookie with the Giants. As usual, he spoke with the maturity that belies his youth.
Work Now, Work Later and When You Get Tired, Work a Little More
Probably the first thing that stands out about Herzlich when I talked to him was his focus.
He wasn't nervous (or didn't seem like it anyway) and he wasn't trying to sell me on a particular viewpoint.
More simply, he explained what he's been up to.
"New learning everyday," noted Herzlich. “Just got to keep executing, make some plays. Obviously you make some mistakes, but you got to put those in the past and keep moving on.”
I wanted to know what he felt about going from a college level playbook to a professional one.
"It's a lot more. But I use tricks to help me learn it, grouping plays together to help me remember."
Taking Days Off?
As we talked a little bit more about his work habits, the subject of the off-days came up.
"As rookies, we have to do extra," he told me.
And when I asked him what he did on the latest day off, his answer confirmed his work ethic, with a telling admission.
"I came in and worked, watched film. This is what I do now. I don't have anything else to do!"
I thought that was interesting for two reasons. First, because he seems to have made the transition from playing football as a sport to a career seamlessly.
Also, because he's totally committed. This is all he's trying to do right now. He has no distractions.
Another aspect of being a rookie is dealing with veterans. We've all heard the stories, some of them legendary, about moody veterans lashing out at rookies on a whim.
Or, more predictably, barely acknowledging their presence.
But the answer I actually got surprised me slightly.
"Sintim, Goff, Boley, Kiwanuka...all the guys actually. They've been really helpful."
And confirming my pre-conceived belief about veterans, he added, "I've been surprised, actually, by all the help I get. They're great."
While I didn't ask him directly about overcoming cancer as he has (he's probably had enough of those questions in the last year), I did ask simply how life in general has been.
Not surprisingly, the focused BC grad gave me a football-relevant answer.
"Life's been good. It's one practice a day here. It's very disciplined."
"I’m not where I wanted to be yet because where I want to be is on the New York Giants 53-man roster. So, there’s still more to go. That’s obviously a big accomplishment if I get to that point."
I think he's got a very good chance of making the team. He won't start anytime soon, but will certainly add depth.
Giants linebacker coach Jim Hermann probably summed it up best, saying, "Herzlich, I love, because he’s one of those kids who, something in his life, obviously his sickness, has really driven his focus to succeed and he’s going to succeed. That’s just the way he is. Pretty much he was on his death bed and now he’s playing in the NFL camp with the New York Giants. That’s a great story."