So they grunt and sweat and run each day.

For many of them, these coaches - who teach them incrementally about football and about life - represent the most structured and disciplined environment that they'll face.

Still, the coaches and the kids can't help but wonder who will be the next big thing.

Coach Bernard Johnson, a Norfolk State University alum, came to the program 28 years ago and changed the name to Spartans, just like his alma mater.

He says the program's guiding principles include working hard in the classroom and advancing to the next level in football from one age group to the next, right up to junior varsity football, where the kids go after rec ball.

"And we stress doing the right thing," Johnson says. "A lot of people don't realize that just because you are 21 or 22 years old, that doesn't make you mature."

'IT'S JUST UNREAL'

In the courtyard at Dickerson Court, two men and a woman sit in the late afternoon shade of the buildings, drinking soft drinks and talking about the main topics of the day - including Michael Vick.

The area's reputation for violence seems out of character with its lack of daytime hustle and bustle. But beware nightfall, when activity picks up. "You hear a lot of bad stories about the East End, the crime and shooting, but not a whole lot happens here," says Barrington Compere, who played linebacker at Warwick during the Michael Vick era.

Compere is now involved in community service and performs with a local hip-hop organization, Hood Platinum Media Group.

"There's nothing wrong with coming back here, but if you've got the ability and opportunity to get out, that's a good thing," Compere says.

He's talking indirectly about his first cousin, Cody Brodus, who hung out less than a block away recently with a group of young men, some on foot and some on bicycles, who idled their time away.

Brodus - heralded a couple of years ago at Warwick as the next Michael Vick - spent a season at Norfolk State, sat out last season and now hopes to start in the fall at Division II St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville.

While Compere is talking, another man walks up and joins the discussion: "You know that thing in the paper, that Talk Back, I wrote in that ..."

Yes, these days, the idle talk, the calm has been broken as the nation each day and night debates the Michael Vick saga.

"It's just crazy, man," Compere says. "It's just unreal."

The area is also the former home of Tony Taylor, a Vick co-defendant who has pleaded guilty and likely to testify against Vick.

In fact, Taylor; another co-defendant, Quanis Phillips; and a young woman lived just across the grassy walk from where Compere sits.

"Out here, a lot of people are talking about Michael Vick," Compere says.

"And a lot of people are wearing jerseys saying, 'Michael Vick is innocent.' "