Bill Hass on the ACC: Eagles Well-Invested With Mark Herzlich at Linebacker
Nov. 13, 2008
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Mark Herzlich seems to inspire trust.
As an outside linebacker for Boston College, he has earned the trust of his coaches and teammates by averaging 8.8 tackles per game, fourth-best in the ACC, and intercepting three passes, including one he returned for a touchdown.
As a friend and teammate, and a double major in finance and marketing, Herzlich sometimes gets asked about investment advice. He always treats such questions seriously.
“Some people have joked around about it,” he said. “We have a couple of guys on our team who are finance majors and (teammates will) ask us – it’s kind of hard to know if they’re serious or not – what stock should I buy? I try to give them a little advice, something I think will work. If they take the advice, great, and if they don’t that’s fine as well.”
Count Eagles head coach Jeff Jagodzinski among those who believes Herzlich would be a good steward.
“He’s got a lot of integrity,” Jagodzinski said. “Absolutely, I would trust him with my wallet.”
Herzlich’s interest in the financial world originates from his father, a financial consultant with Pitcairn Financial Group.
“I think our economy in this country is the driving factor in most people’s lives, how they’re able to live,” Herzlich said. “I feel if I get a better understanding of that then I’ll be able to not only help myself in the future with financial issues, but I’ll get to help other people at the same time.
“I can see myself doing what my dad does, or on the sales side – ‘come invest your money with us and we can do this, this and this for you.’ I’m a pretty personable person and I would like to have a good relationship with the customers. When you’re dealing with a lot of money they kind of like to know who’s dealing with it. So you get as close as you can to your customers to advise them and that’s something I would be interested in.”
Herzlich enjoys relationships. Like most football players, he’s close to his teammates and spends much of his time with them. But he also likes getting to know people in his classes and talking about things other than football.
For his first couple of years on campus, classmates called him “Sandon” because that’s the way it was listed on the class rosters. His full name is Sandon Mark Herzlich, Jr., but growing up he went by Mark to differentiate himself from his dad. As he gains increasing recognition in football, more people around campus are calling him Mark.
“I like both my names,” Herzlich said. “The recognition is nice but I still like to make sure I keep my football side away from my social side. Football is something I do, something I love to do, but it’s not the full person I am.
“Football is definitely a huge part of my life and takes up the most time in my life and it’s a love of mine, it really is. When I hang out with other people, there’s no football talk going on, no talk about bowl games, it’s all what’s going on at the time, and that’s how I keep it separated.”
One thing Herzlich does not keep separated, however, is himself from the runner, receiver or quarterback.
“When you watch tape you see him a lot,” said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. “I don’t keep up with how many tackles they’re making and stuff like that. But he’s easy to see. Now, I think the others are very active, too. I’m impressed with their defense.”
Bowden has a vested interest in the Eagles’ defense because his team plays Boston College Saturday night in Tallahassee, Fla. In the ACC statistics, the Eagles rank first against the run, fourth against the pass, second in total defense and second in points allowed. They are coming off a 17-0 win over Notre Dame, their third shutout of the season.
Herzlich played one of his best games against the Irish, making 11 tackles (10 unassisted) and breaking up three passes. Although some people may disagree, he insists there are “no superstars” on the defensive unit.
“It’s not one person making plays every week,” he said. “The defense is steady. Last week Paul Anderson made two interceptions and carried one back for a touchdown. Three different guys had interceptions last week, the defensive line has been playing fantastic and without them playing the way they have, the linebackers wouldn’t be able to make the tackles we’ve needed.
“I think the biggest part of our defense is the team itself. We all come together, do our responsibilities and get the job done that way. We really understand that in order for our team to go the direction we want, the defense has to take us there.”
And that direction would be the ACC Championship Game in Tampa on Dec. 6. To get there, though, Boston College can’t afford another league loss. The Eagles are 2-3 in the Atlantic Division and Herzlich said the team is treating the remaining three games like an NFL playoff format, with the Florida State game equivalent to a “wild card” contest as the first step.
“So there’s a big sense of urgency on the team right now,” he said. “We need to get it done and this is the time. I think practice has been really sharp the last couple of weeks. People have really honed in to get the job done.”
Herzlich’s game appears to be peaking at the right time as he adjusts to playing the strong side linebacker. Essentially, he lines up against the opposing tight end. If there’s a spread formation, he covers the No. 2 receiver. On running plays his job is to force the play back to the middle. On passes he tries to jam the receiver at the line, allowing the safety to help cover the No. 1 receiver.
“This is actually the first year I’ve played it,” Herzlich said. “I played the weak side last year and my freshman year I played middle linebacker, so this is my third position in three years. At the beginning it felt a little awkward, but now I’m starting to get the hang of the position and know the tendencies of the offense from my position. I feel comfortable there.”
There are times when Herzlich gets beat or “out-leveraged” and he said those get under his skin and inspire him to work harder the next week. He leads the team in tackles and seven of them have been for a loss, including one sack. He has also forced two fumbles.
“He’s really played well, particularly the last few weeks,” Jagodzinski said. “He’s a real high-energy guy. He’s just a good football player and he loves to play the game and it really shows. Mark understands the defense and where he fits and I think he’s put in good positions and then he makes plays.”
When he played at Conestoga High School in Wayne, Pa., Herzlich weighed 260 pounds as a senior. Many schools recruited him as a defensive end, but he preferred linebacker. The Boston College staff under then-head coach Tom O’Brien told Herzlich they would try him at linebacker but if it didn’t work they would move him to end.
Herzlich preferred linebacker, where he has more freedom to make plays – rushing the passer, stopping the run and defending the pass. So he took steps to ensure that’s where he would play, losing 30 pounds to get down to 230, before he arrived on campus.
“I started laying off junk food and getting into the healthy stuff,” he said. “I would get up every morning and run a couple miles, play a lot of basketball. Slowly, all of the baby fat that I had amassed over the years started to go away and I was able to hold it off the rest of the summer. When I got here I started lifting more weights and started putting on more weight and muscle, which is better.
“The toughest food for me to give up was ice cream, which I love. Now I eat pretty much what I want. I got kind of used to eating healthy. It’s better for you and it helps you play better. And once you get in the habit of eating healthy you don’t want to allow yourself to get back into bad habits. Every now and then I’ll eat a little candy or a little ice cream after a meal, but I try to stay pretty much on target.”
A junior, Herzlich would naturally like to play in the NFL. But he ended any speculation about leaving early by saying he will return for his senior year.
After all, there’s more college football to play, more to learn about the financial world and more trust to earn. And Mark Herzlich should have no trouble excelling at all three.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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