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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- The seniors on the Boston College football team raced, one by one, out of the tunnel and between two rows of bouncing cheerleaders to the middle of the Alumni Stadium field. As each player was greeted by a parent or other maroon-and-gold-clad family member, he was bathed in the cheers of a swelling crowd, many of the fans having wrapped up their tailgating early to take part in this pregame ceremony on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Each player was given his due, from the massive and marvelous future NFL lineman to the guys who made more modest contributions during their years at The Heights. But the most thunderous roar of all was reserved for the final senior to charge past the waving pom-poms and into a big, tight, never-going-to-let-go-of-you hug from his mother.
And why not? Mark Herzlich has been the story of BC football for the last three years.
Following two seasons in which he established himself as a tackling machine on the strong side of the Eagles' defense, the linebacker from Wayne, Pa., became a nationally recognized star as a junior in 2008. Along with a team-leading 110 tackles, he had six interceptions, more than any other backer in the country, and returned two of those picks for touchdowns. The Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year and a first-team All-American, Herzlich was a finalist for the Butkus Award, which as the name implies is given to the nation's top linebacker. He also was a quarterfinalist for the Lott Trophy, presented to a defensive player who is outstanding not just on the field but in his personal life as well.
Those Lott committee members hadn't seen anything yet.