It's been two years since the New York Giants drafted Mark Herzlich out of Boston College. Entering his third season, Herzlich is determined to seize the day by leaving training camp as the Giants' starting middle linebacker. A successful wresting of the position would not be the culmination of a three-year plan, but the end of a long chapter that represents Herzlich's life's work.
"It's been 25 years in the making," Herzlich said. "It's been my dream my whole life to be a starting linebacker in the NFL, and tasting it here and there my first season and second season, gets you really excited for this opportunity. When we come into the sport, all we really want is an opportunity and when we get that opportunity to make the most of it. It's a lot of learning, a lot of physical play, and that's what I try to move for and get better every day."
Herzlich is competing with free-agent signee Dan Connor for the right to replace Chase Blackburn in the middle. The void includes Blackburn's team-leading 98 combined tackles and four forced fumbles. As a unit, the Giants defense is determined to improve after struggling against the run last season. The attitude Herzlich is seeking is one of an underdog feel and a fight mentality.
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"You need a passion," Herzlich said. "It's really tough to play defense when you're just going out there and hoping, but we need to be a little angry. We need to be aggressive. I know I play the best when I'm in between angry and having fun. Sometimes you see red and that's not good. You don't want to see red the whole time because then your head's not in the right place. When you're having fun and everybody's bouncing around, you can see that when we play really great defense.
"I'll just reference the Super Bowl season, but you saw the end of that season where everyone was bouncing around. If someone made a big play, everybody's congratulating them. We need that camaraderie, we need that passion, we need that sense of having fun out on the field, to come back into our defense. That way, we can play aggressively, but also play smart."
Following his share of speed bumps in his rookie year, Herzlich played in all 16 games last season, making 30 combined tackles. He started two games of his freshman season before an ankle injury led the Giants to re-sign Blackburn off the couch. Last season Blackburn kept Herzlich relegated to the second unit, but Herzlich has been running with the first team and looking good doing it.
No matter how the Giants' linebacker competition shakes out, Herzlich is already a winner having overcome Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that forced him to miss an entire season at BC in 2009. Triumphant in the game of life, Herzlich is determined to excel on the football field and pen a new chapter of his professional career.
If it's up to Herzlich, 25 years in the making will equate to a lifetime's worth of success in the NFL. First things's first: win a starting job with the Giants.
"I'm preparing to be the best middle linebacker that our team needs," Herzlich said. "I think that's more my philosophy on it and competition is good. Competition helps everyone improve and competition helps getting things correct and I think that without competition, we obviously wouldn't have this sport. It's good to start in camp now, so when we get to the season, we're still trying to be the best linebacker you can be."
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