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Virginia Tech Quarterback Vick Has the Speed, the Moves, the Arm to Become the Next Superstar

October 11, 2000|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — They try to act as if nothing has changed.

In Blacksburg, Michael Vick traipses around campus with his baseball cap turned backward--a kid with a backpack and classes to attend.

Back home, Vick's mother, Brenda, stands in line on a Tuesday at Gildersleeve Middle School, completing paperwork as she awaits her annual bus driver's physical examination.

At Warwick High, Vick's prep coach, Tommy Reamon, sits in his cramped office between two-a-day practices as a stationary fan pushes the smell of dirty socks around the room.

In fact, everything has changed, irrevocably.

Transcendental moments occur only rarely.

The Beatles had Ed Sullivan, Neil Armstrong had the moon, Joe Montana had Dwight Clark.

Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick's world changed Jan. 4 in New Orleans during a 17-point loss to Florida State in the Sugar Bowl game.

In the national title game, on national television, Vick mesmerized in defeat, accounting for 322 of his team's 503 total yards.

With his team trailing, 28-14, at the half, Vick rallied the underdog Hokies to a 29-28 fourth-quarter lead before running out of gas and gasps.

Vick sent two Florida State defenders, Thomas Polley and Roland Seymour, to surgery without being touched, the power of a quarterback's jukes sufficient to buckle two knees.

Florida State players lined up afterward to pay homage to the losing quarterback.

"Who out there is better than him?" Seminole safety Sean Key said. "Who out there is close?"

A new Michael mania was born.

Sporting stars converged on Vick at the ESPY awards in March--Mark McGwire, Jerry Rice, Peyton Manning, Michael Irvin.

"Here's a freshman, sitting with those big shots, and the thing that shocked me is that they were all coming up to me," Vick says.

Irvin told Vick he would change the sporting landscape. Manning gave him tips on how to handle himself in public.

All because of one game?

"I don't know if I've ever seen anyone leap higher or faster," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer says of Vick's vault to fame.

Vick didn't understand what he had done until he got back to Blacksburg and popped the Sugar Bowl tape into his video cassette recorder.

He reran plays over and over just to make sure.

"I did some things in that game that, when I look back on it, it was like, 'What am I doing?' " Vick says.

"Freak" is the word used today to describe a player with extraordinary skills.

They may need a new word for Vick.

At spring practice, Vick was clocked at 4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

As a quarterback package, he has Steve Young's speed, Barry Sanders' moves and Dan Marino's arm.

Barring injury or a poor season, Vick will almost certainly turn pro after this, his redshirt sophomore season.

Vick has led Virginia Tech to a 5-0 start and a No. 3 ranking. In a 49-0 rout of Rutgers, Vick added a spectacular 63-yard run and a flying leap into the end zone to his highlight reel.

Going into Thursday night's Big East game against West Virginia, Vick has completed 45 of 89 passes for 635 yards and is averaging 8.2 yards a carry.

With his poise and personality, Vick has the upside of a skyscraper. At 20, his name has been brazenly mentioned with sporting icons.

"The thing that's gone beyond what I knew was how he's responded to competition," Beamer says. "Special players do that. Tiger Woods does that. Michael Jordan does that."

Woods and Jordan?

Vick is ready to walk the walk.

"It's right there for me," he says. "I just have to get it. That's what excites me. It's all sitting right there for me."

Vick does not shy from comparisons to Jordan and Woods.

"They are the greatest at what they do," he says. "I want to get to that level."

The problem is, Vick's market value is running way ahead of his academic standing. The world already considers him a commodity, refusing to wait until he turns pro.

Virginia Tech has assigned Sharon McCloskey, an associate athletic director, to help manage Vick's rapidly changing life.

"The motivation behind it was to allow him to be a college student and not this autograph-signing superstar," McCloskey says.

She has had to issue cease-and-desist orders to those who have tried to pawn Vick memorabilia on the eBay Web site.

Each day, an athletic department staffer does an Internet word search on "Vick" to make sure the player's NCAA eligibility is not being jeopardized.

McCloskey tracks nearly all pertinent links short of Vicks VapoRub.

"We let that one go," she chuckles.

Vick has achieved almost rock-star status at the rural campus about 40 miles outside Roanoke, Va.

The Hokies have had sports stars before--Bruce Smith, Antonio Freeman, Don Strock--but no one stood in line for those guys.

"Every day, every hour, every minute," Vick says of the public's appetite for him. "Sometimes you have to tell people no, sometimes it's inappropriate. But I try to give anybody an autograph who asks for it."

The demand for Vick is such that the school has limited his time with reporters to an hour a week.

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