Greensboro, NC - Boston College senior linebacker Mark Herzlich (Wayne, Pa.) and NC State senior linebacker Nate Irving (Wallace, N.C.), a pair of hard-hitting defensive standouts who each rebounded from life-threatening situations, have been named the recipients of the 2010 Brian Piccolo Award, Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford announced Friday.
The Piccolo Award has been given annually since 1972 in memory of the late Brian Piccolo to the "most courageous" football player in the ACC. Piccolo was the ACC Athlete of the Year in 1965 and played for the Chicago Bears before his career was cut short when he was stricken with cancer. His courageous fight against that disease was an inspiration to the Bears and the entire football community.
This year’s Award marks the third time two student-athletes shared the award and the first time since 1998 when Virginia’s Anthony Poindexter and Florida State’s Corey Simon shared the honor. The Piccolo also had co-recipients in 1993 when Duke’s Randy Cuthbert and Florida State’s Dan Footman received the honor. Herzlich and Irving will be honored at the ACC’s Night of Legends event which will be held this Friday (6 pm) at the Charlotte Convention Center as part of festivities held around the 2010 Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game.
In May of 2009, Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma in his left thigh. Ewings is an aggressive cancer which attacks both soft tissue and bone. He underwent extensive radiation and chemotherapy in the months following his diagnosis. Once the cancer was controlled, a titanium rod was also inserted into his left leg to stabilize the bone. Once cleared, he began a rehab program to restore his lower body strength. This past summer, probably as a by-product of his aggressive rehab, Herzlich developed a fracture in his right foot. Despite this setback, Herzlich was able to start and compete in Boston College’s 2010 season opener against Weber State. On October 5, Herzlich suffered a broken bone in his left hand, resulting in a cast which has basically made him play “one-handed” this fall.
Still, Herzlich has responded to be Boston College’s third-leading tackler on the nation’s top ranked defense against the run. Herzlich has recorded 54 tackles this year, including 41 solo hits, 3.5 for loss. Despite the “club cast” on his hand, he has four pass interceptions, five pass deflections and one forced fumble.
“Mark's story is truly amazing, “ said Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani. “To fight cancer and win, then to come back and play the way he has is one of the most remarkable accomplishments I've ever witnessed. He is truly deserving of this award."
NC State’s Irving was severely injured in a single car motor vehicle accident on June 28, 2009. Irving suffered a compound fracture of the tibia, a broken rib, a punctured lung and a separated shoulder. The fracture of the tibia required a surgical insertion of an intermedullary nail to allow proper alignment and healing of the bone. Irving faced a length rehab due to the severity of his injuries and the quantity of body parts that were affected.
Due to an extensive rehab program, Irving was able to return to football activities in March of 2010. He has enjoyed a sometimes spectacular senior season as the 2nd leading tackler for an NC State defense which ranks 3rd nationally in sacks and 4th in tackles for loss. He ranks 4th nationally in tackles for loss with 19 and has five quarterback sacks among his 85 total tackles. He set an NCAA FBS single-game record for most tackles for loss with eight against Wake Forest and he was named the Walter Camp National Defensive player of the Week for his play in State’s win over Georgia Tech on Sept. 25.
“One of the most rewarding things I've experienced as a coach has been seeing Nate Irving come back so strong and enjoy so much success,” said NC State Head Coach Tom O’Brien. “He has been a tremendous leader for our team this year with his play on the field and his attitude off the field and is one of the reasons the 2010 team will always be a special one for me.”
Irving is the fourth NC State student-athlete to be honored with the Picccolo Award, joining former teammate Toney Baker, who received the award last year, Scott Adell (1991) and Ralph Stringer (1977), as past Wolfpack honorees. Herzlich becomes the first Boston College student-athlete to be honored with the Piccolo.