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Mark Herzlich, the Football Player

The fact that Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich is battling cancer is the first and only thing many casual college football fans know about him. But before the diagnosis, those who followed the sport knew Herzlich as a ferocious player.

As No. 5 Virginia Tech (4-1, 2-0 ACC) prepares to face Boston College (4-1, 2-1) on Saturday, some Hokies players and coaches were asked to reflect on the type of presence Herzlich was on the field.

“Big, aggressive, made plays,” Coach Frank Beamer said. “I don’t think there was any questions he was heading to the NFL, and a high draft choice. To me, he had it all.”

In 2008, Herzlich was named the ACC defensive player of the year. He led the Eagles with 110 tackles and six interceptions and had 13 tackles for loss and three sacks.

In the Eagles’ 28-23 regular season win over the Hokies last season, Herzlich had a team-leading 13 tackles. In Virginia Tech’s 30-12 win over Boston College in the ACC championship game, Herzlich had seven tackles and two fumble recoveries.

“He’s a heck of a player,” linebacker Cody Grimm said. “One of the scarier guys I’ve played against. He’s a monster.”

Herzlich, listed at 6 feet 4 and 238 pounds before the season, was considered an all-American candidate at linebacker. That was before he learned last spring that he has Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.

Like many other schools, Virginia Tech is raising money in Herzlich's honor. The Hokies will present him a check for $9,494.94 for Uplifting Athletes, a nonprofit organization that raises attention to rare diseases.

Herzlich said this week that he was approaching his fight with cancer the way he would another opponent, and that he hopes to return to the football field next season. He said the thought struck him soon after he was first diagnosed.

“After about two hours of thinking of all that stuff, I was able to realize this is just another opponent,” Herzlich said in a teleconference. “It’s going to be my guys going out there and going out against Virginia Tech on Saturday, or whether it’s me this past Monday going in for another chemo round. There’s another opportunity with an end goal in sight, and for me that’s to be cancer free.”

By Mark Viera  |  October 8, 2009; 11:20 AM ET
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