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Mark Herzlich facing another comeback head on

8-3-Herzlich

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Mark Herzlich’s current experience is simultaneously identical and dissimilar to one he had eight years ago.

The Giants’ veteran inside linebacker has again returned to the field after a forced year in exile. Herzlich suffered a burner in training camp last year and spent the entire 2017 season on injured reserve.

Herzlich also sat out the 2009 season at Boston College, after he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. That year, putting on shoulder pads again was not high on his list of priorities. Doctors told him he would never play football again, might never walk again and could even die from the rare form of bone cancer. Herzlich defied their predictions and the odds and played well enough in his return to the field in 2010 for the Giants to sign him the following year as a free agent. He is the team’s third-longest tenured player, behind Eli Manning and Zak DeOssie.

Yes, Herzlich has traveled this road before. But somehow it all looks so different.

“The first time I did it, I obviously was going through treatments, and it was a year of just getting my body destroyed,” Herzlich said during a training camp break this week. “It was just beaten down. The following year, that was just trying to constantly build back up.

“Last year, after recovering from my injury, it was just a full year of getting my body right again. It was building strength and endurance and just focusing on how to get my 30-year-old body in the best shape it could possibly be in. I feel so much better this year.”

Herzlich has not missed a day of work as a front-line special teamer and backup defender. Some players consider training camp required drudgery. But after being forced to spend another season watching his teammates play, Herzlich enjoys every minute on the field.

“I think anytime something’s taken away, you realize what’s important to you,” Herzlich said. “Doesn’t matter what’s taken away. But you start to evaluate what are these things in my life that are important to me, and football is definitely one of them. The first time, obviously with cancer, it was a little bit different, because I had to make medical decisions based on what I wanted my football future to look like. This time it was, ‘I’m going to come back and play again, it’s just in terms of when.’”

Herzlich spent almost as much time around the team last season as he would have had he played. He was in position and defensive meetings, and attended as many games as possible.

“It’s always hard the first couple of games you miss, because you feel like you want to be in there, you want to be playing,” he said. “And then you have to start to kind of accept the other reality and see how I can be a part of this without actually doing the playing. That was similar in both senses - there was no decision to be made where I could possibly come back. I knew I was going to miss the entire season in both cases. So I said, ‘Okay, how can I be around the team and help out as much as I can?’”

Herzlich also made the most of his second year out of uniform. Always in demand to speak to children afflicted with or groups affiliated with fighting cancer, he honored as many of those requests as possible. Willing to help or support any person or group in need, Herzlich last year did so much good work in the community so frequently that he was the Giants’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. The league’s most prestigious individual award, it is given to a player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field. Herzlich was cited despite not playing a down, a testament to the volume of good work he does.

In addition, his wife, Danielle, gave birth to the couple’s first child in May, a boy they named Boston King.

“You find silver linings in things and because I wasn’t playing I was able to be with my wife for different doctor’s appointments,” he said. “As much as I would’ve loved to be playing, you find out how to make the best of it.

“Fatherhood has definitely changed me, in terms of focusing on another human being’s life. Obviously, it’s been me and my wife and we’ve been kind of a team. But now I’m responsible for not only the health and wellbeing of my child, but also it’s my responsibility to raise a quality young man. It’s an honor and a pressure and that’s a good thing.”

A week before the Giants open their season, Herzlich will turn 31, an age when many NFL players step onto the downside of their careers, if they’re not already there. Herzlich said his body feels good after a year of conditioning, and like all veterans, he’s learned how to take care of himself.

But he still has plenty of challenges to meet and hurdles to clear. When Herzlich last played in 2016, the Giants’ general manager, head coach and defensive coordinator were, respectively, Jerry Reese, Ben McAdoo and Steve Spagnuolo. They have since been replaced by Dave Gettleman, Pat Shurmur and James Bettcher. Gettleman was the Giants’ pro personnel director when Herzlich signed here seven years ago. But the veteran linebacker must make a favorable impression with decision-makers with whom he has no history.

“I went into the offseason thinking very clearly that I wanted to come back,” Herzlich said. “I love being a Giant. I knew that, obviously, Dave was here when I was here before, but you never know, because it’s a whole new group. I treat every year like it was my rookie year, regardless. That means you have to come out there and prove yourself every year. I’ve had three D-coordinators since I’ve been here. You have to constantly keep working.”

For the second time in his life, Herzlich relishes the opportunity to do just that on the football field.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Mark Herzlich’s current experience is simultaneously identical and dissimilar to one he had eight years ago.

The Giants’ veteran inside linebacker has again returned to the field after a forced year in exile. Herzlich suffered a burner in training camp last year and spent the entire 2017 season on injured reserve.

Herzlich also sat out the 2009 season at Boston College, after he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. That year, putting on shoulder pads again was not high on his list of priorities. Doctors told him he would never play football again, might never walk again and could even die from the rare form of bone cancer. Herzlich defied their predictions and the odds and played well enough in his return to the field in 2010 for the Giants to sign him the following year as a free agent. He is the team’s third-longest tenured player, behind Eli Manning and Zak DeOssie.

Yes, Herzlich has traveled this road before. But somehow it all looks so different.

“The first time I did it, I obviously was going through treatments, and it was a year of just getting my body destroyed,” Herzlich said during a training camp break this week. “It was just beaten down. The following year, that was just trying to constantly build back up.

“Last year, after recovering from my injury, it was just a full year of getting my body right again. It was building strength and endurance and just focusing on how to get my 30-year-old body in the best shape it could possibly be in. I feel so much better this year.”

Herzlich has not missed a day of work as a front-line special teamer and backup defender. Some players consider training camp required drudgery. But after being forced to spend another season watching his teammates play, Herzlich enjoys every minute on the field.

“I think anytime something’s taken away, you realize what’s important to you,” Herzlich said. “Doesn’t matter what’s taken away. But you start to evaluate what are these things in my life that are important to me, and football is definitely one of them. The first time, obviously with cancer, it was a little bit different, because I had to make medical decisions based on what I wanted my football future to look like. This time it was, ‘I’m going to come back and play again, it’s just in terms of when.’”

Herzlich spent almost as much time around the team last season as he would have had he played. He was in position and defensive meetings, and attended as many games as possible.

“It’s always hard the first couple of games you miss, because you feel like you want to be in there, you want to be playing,” he said. “And then you have to start to kind of accept the other reality and see how I can be a part of this without actually doing the playing. That was similar in both senses - there was no decision to be made where I could possibly come back. I knew I was going to miss the entire season in both cases. So I said, ‘Okay, how can I be around the team and help out as much as I can?’”

Herzlich also made the most of his second year out of uniform. Always in demand to speak to children afflicted with or groups affiliated with fighting cancer, he honored as many of those requests as possible. Willing to help or support any person or group in need, Herzlich last year did so much good work in the community so frequently that he was the Giants’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. The league’s most prestigious individual award, it is given to a player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field. Herzlich was cited despite not playing a down, a testament to the volume of good work he does.

In addition, his wife, Danielle, gave birth to the couple’s first child in May, a boy they named Boston King.

“You find silver linings in things and because I wasn’t playing I was able to be with my wife for different doctor’s appointments,” he said. “As much as I would’ve loved to be playing, you find out how to make the best of it.

“Fatherhood has definitely changed me, in terms of focusing on another human being’s life. Obviously, it’s been me and my wife and we’ve been kind of a team. But now I’m responsible for not only the health and wellbeing of my child, but also it’s my responsibility to raise a quality young man. It’s an honor and a pressure and that’s a good thing.”

A week before the Giants open their season, Herzlich will turn 31, an age when many NFL players step onto the downside of their careers, if they’re not already there. Herzlich said his body feels good after a year of conditioning, and like all veterans, he’s learned how to take care of himself.

But he still has plenty of challenges to meet and hurdles to clear. When Herzlich last played in 2016, the Giants’ general manager, head coach and defensive coordinator were, respectively, Jerry Reese, Ben McAdoo and Steve Spagnuolo. They have since been replaced by Dave Gettleman, Pat Shurmur and James Bettcher. Gettleman was the Giants’ pro personnel director when Herzlich signed here seven years ago. But the veteran linebacker must make a favorable impression with decision-makers with whom he has no history.

“I went into the offseason thinking very clearly that I wanted to come back,” Herzlich said. “I love being a Giant. I knew that, obviously, Dave was here when I was here before, but you never know, because it’s a whole new group. I treat every year like it was my rookie year, regardless. That means you have to come out there and prove yourself every year. I’ve had three D-coordinators since I’ve been here. You have to constantly keep working.”

For the second time in his life, Herzlich relishes the opportunity to do just that on the football field.

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