- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich put an early charge into the media center at the NFL combine on Sunday morning. When it was announced that Herzlich had arrived for interviews, many scurried to Podium C to chronicle his inspirational story.
Wearing a combine-issued black sweatshirt with the letters "LB" (his position) and the number "6" on it, Herzlich revisited his comeback.
"My story is pretty public. I had issues. I had cancer," he told reporters from around the country. "It wasn't a bad decision or anything along those lines. It's something that made me a better person. I'm happy to talk about it."
Herzlich, who measured 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds at the combine, exhibited presence and poise during the 15-minute session in the 9 o'clock hour, speaking at the same interview podium where highly-touted Auburn quarterback Cam Newton did the day before.
Herzlich arrived in town Friday, went through the standard medical testing that all prospects go through at the combine, and is now preparing for the physical tests. He was clearly comfortable in his surroundings.
"A lot of people stress about medical stuff," he said when asked about being poked and prodded in physical exams by 32 teams Saturday. "I've been plenty versed on true medical stuff."
Herzlich reiterated that he's back "100 percent", pointing out that he now lifts the same number of 225-pound bench-press repetitions he did before the cancer diagnosis. He was asked to assess how far back he's come as a football player.
"I think I'm back too," he responded. "I've progressed, and I think everyone saw my progression week to week during the season. A lot of people don't understand, I haven't had an offseason yet to get my strength back, my speed back. My first practice was three days before my first game. This month that I've had off, the gains I've made have been incredible so far."
Herzlich has been envisioning his progression continuing, setting him up to be at his best the next time he steps on the field, as an NFL player. He believes his versatility is an asset, as he can line up at various spots in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.
As for where he's seeking improvement, Herzlich pointed out that BC didn't play much man coverage. That was an area that he worked on at the Senior Bowl in January with Cincinnati Bengals linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald.
After the Senior Bowl, ESPN's Scouts Inc. rated Herzlich as a late fifth-round selection. Herzlich said he hasn't paid attention to such projections, although he believes he's positioned himself well to show NFL teams what he can do at the combine.
"Monday, when we work out, is going to be a fun day for me," he said, adding that he hopes teams see how well he runs in drills. "My goal is to go out there and impress some people with the physical stuff."
That focus on looking ahead, and targeting the next goal, is something Herzlich said he learned from his battle against cancer. Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a form of cancer that can attack bones, following the 2008 season.
"Once I got diagnosed, I said a prayer every morning and night to be cancer-free and play football again," he said. "That goal was what got me here. I've talked to a lot of people going through cancer right now, or are battling through something, and the biggest problem they have is not having that light at the end of the tunnel. My goal happened to be running out of the tunnel with my team. It got me through a lot of things."
En route to the combine, Herzlich was reading a book written by motivational speaker Bob Moawad, which he said had a strong connection to his own journey.
"He talks about a guy who was always happy, always positive, and someone asked him, 'Why are you always happy?' His answer was that everything in life is a choice -- you can choose to be happy or choose to be upset about it," he said. "If you choose to be happy all the time, and you choose to be positive, then you're going to live a good life and succeed a lot. The power of positive thinking helps.
"My motto through it was 'Stay up.' There are a lot of things that can get you down, and staying positive, keeping your head up, always looking forward, that's what I did."
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.
Boston College's Mark Herzlich talked to the media about his battle with cancer Sunday at the NFL combine.