BOSTON (AP) - Cancer kept Mark Herzlich out for all of last season, and a stress fracture in his foot this summer threatened to delay the Boston College linebacker's return to the field.
But Herzlich returned to practice this week and said on Wednesday he expects to play in Saturday's opener against Weber State.
"It's three days away. I can't believe that," Herzlich said before practice. "Sept. 4 was my goal the whole time. I still have a lot of work to do. I'll be excited on Friday morning, when all we have left is a walkthrough, dinner and sleeping in a hotel room."
The Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year in 2008, Herzlich was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma and sat out the 2009 season while receiving radiation treatment and chemotherapy. He was pronounced cancer-free by doctors lst fall, but during this year's training camp he sustained a stress fracture in his right foot.
On Tuesday, he returned to practice.
"It felt sore. It felt good," he said a day later. "Then I realized, 'Oh yeah, I'm going to have to practice again in 95 degree heat (on Wednesday).' Oh, my gosh, it was tiring. But it was definitely the best workout. That felt good."
BC coach Frank Spaziani acknowledged that there was more than football involved in Herzlich's comeback, but he said he will try to make decisions on how much to play the star linebacker based on the circumstances in the game.
"We want to keep all of the players happy _ within the framework of the team," Spaziani said. "Mark is a special case, but he knows better than anybody that the team comes first."
Spaziani said he didn't think Herzlich would play a full game, but otherwise the coach couldn't predict how Herzlich's body would respond to its first action since the 2008 Music City Bowl.
But at least the problem this time is conditioning; Herzlich said he did virtually no running for four months.
"I don't know what he's definitely doing," Spaziani said Wednesday. "He's definitely practicing today. I'm not to Saturday yet."
Herzlich's father has accumulated 75 tickets for the game, and his high school coaches will be also be there. The school will also include children who have survived cancer in a pregame ceremony.
Herzlich said he is proud of the work he has done to raise money for cancer research, and to serve as a role model for others who are facing a frightening diagnosis. But he is also eager to be thought of once again as a star football player who was a Butkus Award finalist in 2008 after leading the Eagles with 81 tackles in 2008 and intercepted six passes _ the most in the nation for a linebacker.
"Some people don't think of me as a football player at all," Herzlich said. "But I don't ever want either of those things to go away."