Mark Herzlich has overcome far greater setbacks than not being drafted. So when the former Boston College star was bypassed by every team in April’s draft, he simply shrugged it off and went back to work.
Herzlich, a star linebacker at Boston College who beat cancer, said he wasn’t going to let something as trivial as a draft snub throw him off course — especially when the end result worked out for the best. His family’s favorite team, the New York Giants, signed him to a free agent contract last week.
The fact there’s multiple Boston College ties helps, Herzlich said, because much of the terminology and defensive philosophies are similar.
“There are a lot of BC connections everywhere I go here, which is nice. Mathias [Kiwanuka] is back. And there’s Chris Snee, the Maras, and of course Coach Coughlin,” he said. “There’s certainly some different terminology but we played the same basic type of defense at Boston College. ”
General manager Jerry Reese said familiarity with the system will help Herzlich’s cause, but signing the young linebacker wasn’t a charity thing. He feels Herzlich can actually help the team.
“I think Herzlich is kind of like a joker. He can play any of the linebacker spots. He can play strong, he can play the middle, he can play the weakside, and he can reach the passer,” Reese said. “If he is at his form, which was 2008 when he was a monster, we are hoping that we can catch lightning in a bottle.”
There are major concerns for the Giants at linebacker.
“It is wide open for our linebackers. We have some young players that we feel have talent and we are going to develop somebody,” Reese said.
Reese said he is looking forward to seeing how Herzlich reacts to the “real football” action.
“I think, as far as rookies are concerned, those guys have to learn as you go anyway. You put them in early in the season and hopefully they get a feel for the speed of the game,” Reese said. “The preseason is really not the real speed of the game. I think they learn [when] you put them in early in the varsity season … that’s when guys like him will develop a pretty good feel for the speed of the game.”
Herzlich said he thinks things will slow down for him as time passes. Veteran guys like Mike Boley and Jonathan Goff have been extra helpful to the young linebacker, even if each linebacker is ultimately out for a starting spot.
“They’ve been very welcoming but that’s the type of ball club this is, which is why I came here,” Herzlich said. “Guys like Mike Boley, Kenny Ingram and Jon Goff have been good to me. The good thing about the linebacker room is everybody is helping everybody. We’re all competing against one another but everyone is still helping each other.”
When asked what his best fit on the team was, Herzlich joked he doesn’t care what position or what role he plays — just as long as he actually makes the roster.
“I see myself wherever they put me. I’m just trying to move up that depth chart and make the squad,” he said with a broad smile. “Whether it’s Sam [strongside], Mike [middle], or Will [weakside], doesn’t matter because I played all three in college. Once I actually get on the field we’ll be able to tell more about that … I want to make the Giants’ 53-man game day roster, so there’s still a long way to go.”
The long way has turned into Herzlich’s calling card, as he’s done what not many other professional athletes have done. Battling Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, took a lot out of Herzlich as he missed the 2009 campaign. He came back stronger than ever for the 2010 season and said his perseverance is what he wants people to take out of his journey.
“I think there’s been a little closure to the whole cancer story, but obviously I don’t want it to go away because I’m very proud of what I went through and I want the story to help as many people as possible,” he said before adding football is his main focus right now. “But for the next 28-30 days it’s all about learning the plays, knowing all this stuff by heart and then executing on the field.”
The one thing that Herzlich doesn’t want to discuss is his childhood rooting interests.
As a kid growing up in the Philadelphia area, Herzlich said he didn’t have much of a choice, saying, “Everybody is going to be upset, but I’m from Philadelphia so you know how that goes.” He did, however, point out that his dad has “always been a Giants fan if that gives [fans] some solace.”
He’s on Big Blue now, so it’s up to one of the newest Giants to help knock off that alleged “dream team” south of the New Jersey Turnpike.
Follow Tony Williams on Twitter for updates throughout Giants training camp @TBone8.