Herzlich has not only beaten a rare form of bone cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma) that threatened to take both his life and leg while a star player at Boston College, he has recovered to forge an NFL career as a backup linebacker and core special-teams player for the New York Giants.
As the Giants prepared to host New Orleans in the FOX America’s Game of the Week (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday), Herzlich spoke about his journey and more in a question-and-answer session with FOXSports.com.
Q: How do you assess where your football career is at in your second NFL season?
Herzlich: It’s a dream come true. It really is everything that you think it’s going to be. It’s fun, it’s hard, it’s exciting. Winning is an unbelievable high. Losing is an unbelievable low. It’s one of those things that I hope I get to continue to do for a long time.
Q: What are the biggest strides you made from Year 1 to Year 2 in the NFL?
Herzlich: Understanding what our concepts are on defense and improving little things on special teams. Special teams is about effort and hustle, but you also learn little techniques you can incorporate in your game.
Q: How long have you been back at 100 percent physically?
Herzlich: I’ve felt great all year. I feel like I’m playing at a top level.
Q: How often do you still hear from people about your story?
Herzlich: Every day from someone, whether it’s through Twitter, Facebook or letters that come to the Giants. It’s a great honor and a privilege. It’s also definitely difficult when you’re dealing with children who don’t have many days left. Understanding what to say and what not to say to them is something I’ve had to learn. That’s been tough.
Q: I know you’ve gotten into public speaking. Why did you decide to do that?
Herzlich: It kind of came naturally as I went through my story, did different interviews and received responses from different people. I realized it was important to tell my story. Getting out there and doing public speaking and different events is one of the best ways to get the word out there and give people hope who may not have much.
Q: Does it ever get old talking about your story with the media or others?
Herzlich: It gets a little bit tedious at some points when all I’m thinking about is football or something else and then questions come up. But overall, I’m proud of the battle. It’s something I never say no to because I know that it helps many, many people. Just a little bit of my time can reach that many more people.
Q: I know he has a different form of cancer, but are you following what’s going on with Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano?
Herzlich: I haven’t talked to him yet, but I’ve been following as much as I can through the news and am talking with (Colts left tackle) Anthony Castonzo, who’s one of my buddies from BC. I know the team is really rallying around him and his fight. I know it’s hard for him because he probably feels like he is fighting for himself and his team. That’s tough when you’re just trying to get through cancer treatments. I have the utmost respect for what he’s doing.
Q: I saw on-line that you have a personal recipe for fish tacos. Do you cook them yourself or do you have a personal chef? And did having cancer cause you to change your diet?
Herzlich: (Laughs) I don’t have anyone who cooks for me. I cook on my own. I’ve definitely gone toward a healthier diet. I eat a lot more antioxidants, fruits and vegetables. In college, you don’t think about it that much. Now, it’s important. It fluctuates how strict I am with my diet, but for the most part I try and eat pretty good.
Q: Most people don’t know you have a first name that isn’t Mark. What is the origin of that name – Sandon – and why does it run in your family?
Herzlich: My grandfather made it up. I’ve heard the story that he thought my dad could be called Sandy when he was a boy, Don as he was getting through his teen years and Sandon when he was in the executive world. I think one thing my grandfather didn’t understand is that people don’t usually change their name once they’re called something when they’re little. Either way, that’s how I got my name. There are three Sandon’s that I know of – myself, my dad and my dad’s cousin.
Q: Are you going to keep the legacy going someday with your kids?
Herzlich: I hope to have a Sandon Mark III.
Q: Finally, have you had a chance to think about life after football and what you’re going to do career-wise?
Herzlich: I definitely want to see how far I can go with motivational speaking and passing my word out. That’s something I really enjoy. There have been other things. I got my master’s (degree) in BC in business and a marketing degree as well. I’m interested in that. There are definitely some plans in the works but not head-on anything yet.