All-American: Herzlich battles cancer for a future in football

When he was diagnosed with a malignant bone tumor in his leg, star college linebacker Mark Herzlich began a fight for his life and for a future playing in the NFL

For most people, a successful fight against a deadly cancer would mean staying alive. But for Boston College football star Mark Herzlich, who was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 21, living also means playing football. As Byron Pitts reports, Herzlich made a risky treatment choice, determined to achieve his dream of joining the NFL.


The following script is from "All-American" which aired on Oct. 30, 2011.

In 2008, Mark Herzlich was one of the best college linebackers in the country, an All-American. The 6'4", 240 pound junior at Boston College was so dominating he was projected to be a first round pick in the NFL draft.

Then, at the very top of his game, Mark was diagnosed with bone cancer. He was told by a doctor his playing days were over...that he might not ever run again. He was just 21.

60 Minutes Overtime: Best friends forever, fighting cancer together
If you ask Mark Herzlich to disclose his secret weapon in beating bone cancer, he'll answer: Zack Migeot

For the next two years, Mark Herzlich fought two battles: one for his life, the other for a future in football.

[Sports commentator: Look out, Herzlich's got it. Great job of anticipation. You gotta know where number 94 is at all times.]

In 2008, Mark Herzlich was a game changer. Smart, physical, relentless. Make a mistake...and the Boston College linebacker would make you pay.

[Sports commentator: More pressure, Herzlich...]

Byron Pitts: You were on top of the world?

Mark Herzlich: Oh yeah, I was big time. I was as big time as it gets at BC.

Byron: You were the man?

Mark: I was the man at BC. Oh boy, that changed quick.

Just months after his dream season - in the spring of 2009 - Mark began experiencing pain in his left leg.

Herzlich: It was a sharp pain in different parts of my leg.

Pitts: Bite your lip kind of pain?

Herzlich: Oh, like screaming. My roommate moved out because he couldn't get sleep. I couldn't get sleep.

That May, after final exams, Mark's parents took him to Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. An MRI showed that the pain in his left thigh was a tumor. It was Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that strikes fewer than 400 Americans a year. Thirty percent of them don't survive.

Herzlich: It knocked me off my feet. I was gripping the bed and my hands started sweating.

Pitts: Your parents?

Herzlich: In shock. And they were silent for awhile and I was silent for awhile. And then my dad - my dad asked, he said, "You know, Mark's a good football player. When will he be able to play again?" And my mom hit him. Said, "What are you thinking about that for?" But I was thinking the exact same thing. He knew how much I loved football and how much I wanted that to be a part of my life. So the doctor said Mark will not be playing football again.

The Herzlichs' lives revolved around sports. Mark's parents, Sandy and Barb were collegiate athletes. His brother, Brad, is a linebacker at Brown University. The news was difficult to accept.

Byron: What was your first reaction when you heard, "The best option is this: no football?"

Barb: I was trying not to care. I knew how important it was to Mark. I would never say, "Mark, stop thinking about playing football anymore."

Clem Taylor is the producer.

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