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Herzlich lands with the Giants

Ex-BC linebacker gets his chance

Linebacker Mark Herzlich was sweating the details as he ran drills to impress NFL teams after his days at Boston College. Linebacker Mark Herzlich was sweating the details as he ran drills to impress NFL teams after his days at Boston College. (File/Darron Cummings/Associated Press)
By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / July 27, 2011

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The anticipation built as the countdown to the end of the NFL lockout began. This time, Mark Herzlich knew the phone would ring in his home in Pennsylvania.

There would be no waiting and wondering about the direction of a football career that blossomed at Boston College, survived a year-long bout with cancer, and then picked up momentum in last season’s comeback with the Eagles.

It wasn’t the sexy, high-profile, first-round draft pick path Herzlich had dreamed of before a rare and deadly form of bone cancer knocked him to his knees following his junior season. But it was the NFL; the New York Giants yesterday came to an agreement with the linebacker on the first day free agents could be signed.

The 23-year-old Herzlich will play under former BC coach Tom Coughlin.

“I’m ecstatic and pumped,’’ said Herzlich, who recently returned home from a whirlwind session of working out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and making other personal NFL-sponsored appearances as he tried to prove he was a quality player who could compete at the highest level.

When the call did come - the Giants, Eagles, and Ravens expressed the most interest - the Herzlich household was celebratory.

“This is great,’’ said Herzlich’s father, Sandy. “I grew up in Connecticut as a Giants fan. To me this couldn’t have worked out better. We’re all delighted.’’

The other great news was that Herzlich’s latest medical checkup showed no signs of any return of the disease. “He came through that with flying colors as well,’’ said Sandy Herzlich, who now will spend weekends watching his younger son, Brad, play at Brown and then follow the fortunes of Mark with the Giants on Sundays.

Herzlich’s journey back from cancer has been well-chronicled. What was less publicized was the battle he waged to re-establish himself as an NFL prospect.

The 6-foot-3-inch, 245-pounder trained diligently after his college career ended last January. He went through all the drills and workouts during Senior Bowl week. He worked out at the NFL Combine. He participated in BC’s pro workout later in the spring. The consensus was that while Herzlich wouldn’t be a first-round pick, or perhaps even a first-day pick in the NFL draft, some team would scoop him up in the later rounds.

But when the draft ended, Herzlich’s name was still on the board. He was disappointed and hurt and frustrated. But he quickly shrugged it off, the same way he tossed aside the doubters who said he never would play football again after his cancer diagnosis.

“And we all saw how that turned out,’’ said Herzlich, with a look of determination he generally reserved for attempting to sack quarterbacks during his BC days.

So Herzlich worked. And he worked some more. He went to Florida under the supervision of the ever-expanding IMG football program.

By early July he was ready to come home, ready to play football. But the question was where and when.

Normally, Herzlich would have known his fate hours after the NFL draft, but the lockout prevented that. Weeks turned into months and all Herzlich could do was work out and wait and hope.

When the lockout ended Monday, Herzlich could move forward. “We just waited to see would happen,’’ said Sandy Herzlich.

Yesterday morning, Mark made the announcement on his Twitter account: “Decision is made I will be a #GIANT can’t wait to get to #NYC. Thank you for everything.’’

“We can’t wait,’’ said Sandy Herzlich.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

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