Jan. 12, 2001: Michael Vick turns pro,gives up last two college years

Speaking in front of a wall of microphones and a crowd full of raucous well wishers at the Hampton Roads Boys & Girls Club on Thursday afternoon, Michael Vick was truly standing on his own hallowed ground.

It was where the dream began for Vick, a dream that came to fruition with his announcement that he was giving up his final two years of eligibility at Virginia Tech to enter the NFL draft in April.

Nearly eight years ago, Vick was sitting in the very same Boys & Girls Club, getting starry-eyed as he listened to Aaron Brooks - Vick's second cousin and the current starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints - talk about playing varsity football at the now-defunct Ferguson High.

"This is where I grew up," said Vick on Thursday, regarding his roots at the Boys & Girls Club.

Vick was just a junior high kid when Brooks delivered that speech. Vick was in the process of overcoming a penchant for misbehaving and talking too much in class. Brooks' words helped to speed up Vick's maturation, and sparked the young man's imagination.

"I really leveled out and got serious about that," Vick told the Daily Press in December 1999 prior to Virginia Tech's national championship game appearance in the Sugar Bowl. "From that point on, I had goals. I wanted to play high school football and go to college and hopefully have a shot at the NFL."

He has more than just a shot at playing on the next level now. Vick might just be the No. 1 pick on April 21.

So, after he arrived at the Boys & Girls Club in a new silver Lexus GS 300 sedan on Thursday, weaving past nine television trucks in the parking lot, Vick waded with his family through a throng of autograph-seekers. With four rows of family, friends and coaches, including Hokies football head coach Frank Beamer, seated around him in the Boys and Girls Club gymnasium, Vick made it official.

"My family is so important to me, and now I have the opportunity to take care of them, so I've decided to leave Virginia Tech and enter the NFL draft," Vick said as the room cheered a decision that was anything but unexpected.

College underclassmen have until 5 p.m. EST today to file the necessary paperwork to the NFL office for eligibility in the draft.

Dave Lowman, a Richmond-based sports agent was at Thursday's news conference. He said Vick signed a contract last Friday to be a client of his firm, headed by Andrew Joel. Lowman said Vick had filed his paperwork as of Thursday morning.

Beamer didn't waste much time with kind words about his now former star quarterback. He said didn't want to steal Vick's spotlight. However, after the formal news conference concluded, it became immediately clear just how much Vick meant to Beamer.

As the coach stood up to walk away from the table where he was seated next to Vick's mother, Brenda Boddie, and Hokies assistant coach Jim Cavanaugh, Beamer tucked his head low and dabbed his nose with a tissue given to him by Vick's mother. Yet, Beamer couldn't disguise the tears that streamed down his face.

"We've been very fortunate to have the greatest player in the country play for us over the last two years," Beamer said. "I know our fans will never forget Mike and will always have a place in our hearts for Mike, and I know we (the Hokies' coaching staff) will, too.

"The tough part about letting Mike go is not only his great athletic ability and what he means to our football program, but he's also a great individual and those are the people you just don't really want to part with."

Warwick High football coach Tommy Reamon, Vick's former high school coach and close personal friend, acted as master of ceremonies for the news conference. His words were cheered and exhorted by the crowd of more than 300 in attendance.

Reamon described how Vick left his options open to explore his NFL potential, even after Vick's initial announcement Dec. 15 that he intended to stay at Virginia Tech.

The coach also provided a framework for how the decision came about, recapping the last week's efforts by Beamer and his Hokie assistants to get Vick in contact with NFL personnel, and Reamon's own arrangements to allow Vick to interview several professional agents and players to provide more information.

Brooks said he would also do whatever he needed to do in order to make Vick feel comfortable in the NFL. Considering Vick may be in a situation where he could possibly earn at least $50 million by coming out early, Brooks, who was not in attendance, said the temptations for Vick will be strong.

"I'm going to make sure he gets around the right people and presents himself well in public, but I think Michael's going to be just fine," said Brooks from his home in New Orleans on Wednesday night.

"My big thing is to groom him. Even if we're not on the same team, I'm going to continue to groom him. I want him to become just as good I am, if not better. I want to teach him the do's and don't's of being a professional quarterback ... handling the media, staying in the pocket, when to throw, when to run."

At least two of Vick's former Virginia Tech teammates were in attendance Thursday, including Lake Taylor High product Ronyell Whitaker and Phoebus High graduate Nathaniel Adibi. Whitaker, a 5-foot-9, 193-pound cornerback who is one of Vick's close friends at Virginia Tech, said the Hokies will have a much different look offensively next season, but added he is confident that they will be able to overcome Vick's absence.

Virginia Tech is now left to choose between rising junior Grant Noel, redshirt freshman Jason Davis and likely incoming freshmen Will Hunt and Bryan Randall of Bruton High as replacements for Vick.

"You don't get a player like Michael Vick every year," Whitaker said. "You might not ever see another Michael Vick.

"I think our quarterback situation is good. I mean, those guys (Noel and Davis) got in and played a lot of reps. Maybe not in a game, but they played behind Mike and Mike's taught them a lot of stuff, just like the guys Mike was playing behind taught him a lot. I think they'll fit in well."

None of that situation is of Vick's immediate concern anymore. He's not in any rush to make magic happen immediately in the NFL. After all, he knows he still has some growing up to do.

"It's going to take time," Vick said. "I'm not the greatest player in the world, and I won't be the greatest player in the world when I step into the NFL. Believe me, with a couple of years of maturity and a couple of years of experience, maybe I will be the greatest."