Like Father ’81 (and Mother ’81), Like Sons – The Herzlichs

The Herzlich family at the Senior Bowl.

When asked about his strongest football memory from his playing days at Wesleyan, Sandy Herzlich ’81 came up with a 20-7 win at Amherst in 1979.  “We beat Amherst up there in just a great game,” Sandy recounted.  “Kosty [defensive coordinator Peter Kostacopoulos] put in a wild game plan and we were shuttling personnel in and out, and it worked.  I remember that as being a very satisfying win.”  Head Coach Bill Macdermott called it “one of the best defensive games I’ve ever seen Wesleyan play.”  Mac was in his ninth season at the helm.

Sandy’s memory of his first date with Barb Martin ’81 on Saturday, Oct. 8, 1977, is a bit more sketchy, very sketchy, actually.  “I don’t remember the date at all.  I just don’t remember any of it,” remarked the 1980 Wesleyan football team co-captain about the first time he went out with his future wife.  It’s not that his mind was clouded with the passion of the moment.  Sandy had started the first game of his outstanding Cardinal gridiron career at Coast Guard, a 24-7 Cardinal victory, that afternoon and got his bell rung, but good, from his spot along the defensive line.  “I was really woozy that night,” he said.

Fortunately for the couple, Barb didn’t hold it against him and six years later, they wed in her hometown of Rowayton, Conn., not far from Sandy’s own native West Hartford.  That was after each finished a stellar athletic career at Wesleyan, one that earned Barb a spot in the Wesleyan Athletics Hall of Fame as a member of the first class inducted in 2008.  Barb was a school record-holder in both field hockey and lacrosse as well as a top squash player.  Sandy was a standout on defense in both football and lacrosse.

Not surprisingly, the couple’s two sons, Mark and Bradley, were both football and lacrosse stars in high school but each abandoned lacrosse, unlike their father, once they got to college. For Mark, the decision has certainly paid off, but not without some serious drama along the way.

Enrolled at Boston College, Mark made an immediate impact for the Eagles as a linebacker. During his junior year in 2008, Mark was named Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Defensive Player of the Year and a third-team AP All-American.  At that time, a pro career became a very real possibility.  “I didn’t even think about the possibility of him going pro until midway through his junior season when he won the ACC Player of the Year,” Sandy explained.  “After that the thought occurred to us that he might actually be able to make money doing it.”

Then in early 2009, things started to go wrong. Feeling pain in his leg, Mark underwent medical examinations and tests. He continued to play and participate in spring ball at BC.  But by May, after an MRI, he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a malignant tumor that occurs in the bone or soft tissue of the body. For Mark, the tumor was in his left femur.  Treated at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital near the Herzlichs’ hometown of Wayne, Pa., Mark began chemotherapy, and eventually radiation treatment as well.  “First they told us they didn’t think they would have to cut his leg off,” Sandy said. “That was their idea of good news.  The initial plan was to do chemo and follow that up with what they call a resection surgery.” Had that operation taken place, Mark would never have been able to continue with football and would likely walk with a limp the rest of his life.

Mark responded extremely well to chemo treatment, which was truly a blessing. “Because Mark responded so well to the chemo, and part of that, I think, was that he was in such good shape that he could tolerate full doses right away, they were willing to try radiation as a local treatment instead of surgery,” Sandy explained.  The tumor had begun to shrink immediately after chemo and with the addition of radiation, Mark was declared virtually cancer-free in September.

Treatments continued into November. He also had a titanium rod inserted into his bone for reinforcement. “The doctors told us the hardest part of it was actually boring out Mark’s bone because it was hard as a rock.” The concern had been that chemo and radiation might have weakened the bone itself. Such was not the case.

Mark did not play the 2009 season but College Gameday came to BC for the Florida State game and did a report on Mark’s miraculous recovery. He returned for his final season in 2010.

“He started every game but he was a little bit rusty in the beginning,” Sandy said.  “By the seventh or eighth game he began playing the way he was capable of playing again. He played in the Senior Bowl and we expected him to go anywhere from the third to fifth round in the NFL draft. But draft day came and went, and Mark didn’t get picked up by anybody.”

The Herzlich family at the Maxwell Football Club Awards.

Touted as one of the top non-drafted free agents available, and aided somewhat by the lockout prior to the 2011 NFL season, Mark was able to strategize his future pro career. Deciding that an East Coast team was his preference, Mark eventually had discussions with the Ravens, Eagles and Giants. He came to terms with the Giants and is currently on the 53-man roster as a rookie.  Said Sandy, “The only reason Mark is playing in the NFL is because of his mom, not his dad.”  That was prompted by Sandy’s belief that Barb’s athletic talent far exceeded his own.

Sandy currently works for Pitcairn Family Office, a financial services company in Jenkintown, Pa.  He has been there for eight years.  That followed jobs with Proctor & Gamble, Ralston Purina, Merrill Lynch and Vanguard.

One of the finest days for the Herzlich family came in 2010 when the Maxwell Club in Philadelphia presented both Bradley Herzlich, who is now a sophomore football player at Brown University, and Mark Herzlich with awards. Bradley received the Jim Henry Award as the area high-school student-athlete Player of the Year while Mark earned the Spirit Award. It was the first time brothers were honored at the same ceremony in the illustrious 75-year history of the Maxwell Football Club Awards.  “I’m proud of both my guys,” Sandy boasted.