The holiday season has long been regarded as a time for family and togetherness. To most Americans, that means gathering around dinner tables and Scrabble boards with relatives of all ages, delighting in friendly chatter and warm apple cider. But for linebackers Brad Herzlich ’14 and Mark Herzlich, “family time” often means something different.
The Herzlich brothers are your prototypical football siblings. Though they both share many interests outside of football, they’re more likely to be watching film and critiquing each other’s play than playing Boggle by the fire. And they would not have it any other way.
“It’s really fun in that he’s very helpful,” Brad said of his older brother. “He’s been very successful and has a lot of experience — and because of that, he can give me a lot of great feedback and help me improve my game.”
Currently a member of the NFL’s New York Giants, Mark graduated from Boston College in 2011 after racking up numerous prestigious awards, including Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year and All-American Team honors in 2008. But his successes have not made it easy for the younger Herzlich.
”It can be tough because there is a lot of pressure,” Brad said. “When people see the name ‘Herzlich,’ they have certain expectations for me and that drives me, but that means I have to do so much more to make a name for myself.”
That struggle to retain an identity started very early thanks to the brothers’ age gap. “I was a defensive end early on, but my brother’s success at linebacker influenced my middle school coaches to move me there,” Brad said. “I was reluctant at first because I wanted to do my own thing, but there was a lot more glory, and it ended up being fun.”
Still, Brad said he remains very committed to doing “his own thing.”
“During recruiting, coaches would expect something I’m not since Mark and I have very different playing styles — and that was hard,” he said. “But here at Brown, people treated me like an individual and not Mark’s brother, and I really liked that.”
The Herzlichs are no strangers to adversity. In May of 2009, Mark was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer known as Ewing’s sarcoma. Despite being told he would likely never play football again, Mark refused to give up.
He underwent chemotherapy soon after diagnosis and, on Sept. 29, 2009, was declared cancer-free.
“I always saw a fight in my brother. He was never really discouraged,” Brad said. “Sure, he got down a bit, but he was never negative. I always thought he would come back and play football.”
And play football he did. Mark returned to BC’s starting lineup in 2010 and, after going undrafted in the 2011 NFL draft, was picked up in free agency by the Giants.He went on to make the Giant’s 53-man roster and, on Nov. 20, made his first start against the Philadelphia Eagles.
“Cancer changed Mark in a lot of ways. He gained a new appreciation for life and sees value in things more easily,” Brad said. “He also sees that football is a way by which he can make a difference. He seeks to use his position as an NFL player to raise awareness for cancer and help people who are going through what he had to.”
“It also brought us a lot closer,” Brad added. “We’ve always been close, but that really brought us together.”
And with togetherness like that, who needs Scrabble?