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Posted: Wednesday July 29, 2009 11:38AM; Updated: Friday September 25, 2009 4:47PM
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Herzlich battling toughest opponent: cancer (cont.)

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Fans from far and wide have mailed their warm wishes to the Herzlich house.
Courtesy of Barbara Herzlich

Dear fans,

Some of you may know me because I've come on here before talking about the respect I've got for Clemson fans, but most of you won't. My son is Mark Herzlich, the Boston College linebacker recently diagnosed with bone cancer. I just want to come on here and say how classy the entire Clemson program is ...
-- Sandon Herzlich on Clemson message board at Tigernet.com

Ripples from Herzlich's diagnosis reached Kelsey Hudome while she was at an ACC regatta with the Clemson rowing team in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Her father, William, informed her of his plight. She broke down in tears.

Herzlich entered their family picture 10 years ago when he befriended her brother, Bill, who has Down's Syndrome, in middle school. Forever treating him as his equal, Herzlich was asked to play in the Valor Bowl, a high school all-star game for graduating seniors in Pennsylvania that helps raise funds for the Special Olympics. He obliged. At a baseball game that spring, Vinnie DiMartini, whose 14-year-old son, Sonny, also has Down's Syndrome, asked Herzlich to be careful and not jeopardize his scholarship. "There's no way I'll miss this game," Herzlich said. "Your son's always supporting us."

When he was introduced to the crowd, Herzlich carried Sonny above his head in a sprint from the goal line to midfield. "I'm not sure Sonny's been happier," his father said.

They all support Herzlich now. Kelsey Hudome bought a football for the Clemson Tigers to autograph in the training room on campus and has since shipped it to the Herzlich family. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney sent his own thoughts. "Clemson best recognizes that your opponent is your opponent, not your enemy," Herzlich's father said.

Even as he undergoes treatments and prepares for a transfer of care to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Herzlich speaks about the 2010 season as a definitive return date. He is in the market for a car so that he can drive to and from Dana Farber, and plans on taking four classes in the fall semester. He will assist the strongside linebackers -- of which BC has none with playing experience -- in 2009 and be done with his chemo by January, if all goes well. He would then need a metal rod surgically implanted in his leg and to take things from there in terms of rehabilitation. "He's tolerating the therapy very well," said Dr. Arthur Staddon, his oncologist.

As a two-time marathon runner and vice president at a financial planning group, his father thinks of the long run. "Five people think he can return," he said, naming his wife, two sons and McGovern as keepers of the faith. "I told Mark, 'Those doctors know a lot about cancer, but they don't know s--- about you.'"

There is, at least, one other person who believes Herzlich can play again. His name is Walter Musgrove, a 25-year-old law student at Tulane. Herzlich calls him his "Guardian Angel" and "Inspirational Walter." Four years ago Musgrove broke his collarbone while playing cornerback for Texas State. X-rays taken in the hospital then revealed that he had Hodgkin's Disease. Instead of ending his training, he continued to practice. He went through two-a-days while undergoing chemo and radiation. "You can't let the treatment beat you," Musgrove said.

When Herzlich was diagnosed, Musgrove read about it on a Web site. To contact Herzlich he requested to be his friend on Facebook and attached a message that began: Football player with cancer. I still played. Herzlich welcomed his request. "I just tell him if you want something you pray for it," said Musgrove, who led the Southland Conference in interceptions while beating cancer. "Be very specific when you ask God for things."

Herzlich, a Presbyterian, prays. Above his bed at home hangs a hand-knitted cloth of a boy with doleful eyes and folded hands, praying on his knees. "I was scared in the beginning," he said, "but as you go along you see positives. Things get easier. You start to believe a little more."

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