The anticipation built as the countdown to the end of the National Football League 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.
Signing as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants wasn’t the sexy, high-profile first-round draft pick path that Herzlich had dreamed might happen before a rare and deadly form of bone cancer calling Ewing’s Sarcoma knocked him to his knees following his junior season. But it is life at the next level.
“I’m ecstatic and pumped,” said Herzlich, who was back home in Pennsylvania yesterday after a whirlwind session of workouts at the IMG academy in Bradenton, Fla., and other personal NFL-sponsored appearances as he tried to re-invent his image as a quality player who could compete at the highest level.
When the call did come — the Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens had 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.”
Another reason for joy was the news that Herzlich’s latest cancer check showed no signs of a return.
“He came through that with flying colors as well,” said Sandy Herzlich, who will now devote his weekends watching his younger son Brad play at Brown, and then follow the fortunes of Mark with the Giants on Sundays.
Mark Herzlich’s journey back from his bout with cancer has been well chronicled. What has been less publicized has been the battle he has waged to re-establish himself as an NFL prospect.
The 6-foot-3 inch 245-pound Herzlich thought he had gone through phase one as he trained diligently following the end of his college career at BC last January. He went through all the drills and workouts during Senior Bowl week. He worked out at the NFL Combine. He worked out at BC’s pro workout later in the spring. The consensus feeling was that while Herzlich wouldn’t be a first round 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. Herzlich was disappointed and hurt and frustrated. But he quickly shrugged it off the same way he tossed aside the doubters who said he would never play football again after he received his cancer diagnosis.
“And we all saw how that turned out,” said Herzlich, with a look of determination he generally reserved for opposing quarterbacks during his BC playing days.
So Herzlich worked. And he worked some more. He went to Florida under the supervision of the ever-expanding football complex that specializes in developing young talent.
By early July, he was ready to come home. Ready to play football. But the questions were where and when? Normally, Herzlich would have known his fate hours after the NFL draft, which was the normal time for teams to sign undrafted free agents. But the lockout prevented that. The weeks turned into months and all Herzlich could do was work out and wait and hope that there would be no more potholes.
Finally when the NFL lockout ended on Monday, Herzlich could move forward. “We just waited to see would happen,” said Sandy Herzlich.
On Tuesday morning, Mark made the announcement on Twitter.
“Decision is made I will be a #GIANT can’t wait to get to NYC. Thank you for everything,” he wrote
After so many months of waiting, Herzlich can move on to his next challenge.
“We can’t wait,” said Sandy Herzlich.