Mark Herzlich: Overcoming Adversity, On and Off the Field
Linebacker Mark Herzlich knows that being a leader can mean many things. He entered professional football as an undrafted free agent rookie in 2011 and helped New York win it all that year. At Boston College, his dominant play led to ACC Player of the Year and All-America honors.
But he's also a leader off the field, guiding people through the kinds of adversity he has faced in life.
Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, between his junior and senior seasons in college. While it could have ended his career, for Herzlich it was just another obstacle to overcome. After missing the entire 2009 season, he rejoined the Boston College squad in 2010 and started all 13 games that year.
As painful as his experience with cancer was, Herzlich said beating it made it easier to face the challenges thrown at him in professional football.
"If you have confidence in your ability to overcome anything, then you can face that challenge head on,” said Herzlich. “I can’t sit here and say right now that no matter what gets thrown my way, I know what to do and how to get over it. But I do know it’s possible. Having the confidence in that possibility and having the knowledge, that yes, I can figure out a way, that’s what kind of gets you through and lets you take the risks that can ultimately benefit your life.”
Herzlich now wants others to benefit from his experience. His recent book, What it Takes: Fighting for My Life and My Love of the Game, is a response to what he heard from the many people facing their own challenges who wrote to him during his battle with cancer.
He said he decided to write it after reading former New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi’s book Never Give Up: My Stroke, My Recovery and My Return to the NFLwhile in the hospital.
“When I was going through my bout with cancer, I looked for my champion," Herzlich said. "We all look for heroes, motivation and inspiration.”
For him, that hero was Bruschi, who fought his way back to the field after suffering a stroke in 2005.
“Me personally, I kind of thrive in a leadership role. That’s how I was made up. That’s who I am,” Herzlich said. His secrets? Hard work, self confidence and a desire to make the people around him better.
"I’m not looking for anything to be handed to me," he said. "I’m not looking for a good sign somewhere as encouragement for what I’m doing to be right. I make those signs happen, and I accept them when they’re shown to me.”
Photo: Getty Images | Mason Lerner is a freelance journalist who has written for ESPN The Magazine, the Houston Chronicle, the Associated Press and the Galveston County Daily News.