Over the weekend of March 17th and 18th, I had the privilege of covering the City of Newport Newsí special "Salute to Michael Vick" weekend celebration for HokieCentral.com.
I reported on those events in a three-part article entitled Ookieís Excellent Adventure. However, I also wanted to share some thoughts about a prevailing impression that stuck with me at the conclusion of the events. I believe Michael Vick will remain a Virginia Tech student-athlete until he earns his degree.
Thereís been a great deal of discussion and speculation about Vickís future regarding how soon heíll make the jump to the ranks of professional football. "How long will Michael Vick be at Virginia Tech? Will he go pro after this season? Will he play football for the Hokies for two more years and then go pro? Wouldnít it be great if Vick played out his full collegiate eligibility for Tech?" Many Hokie football fans have pondered these questions in depth after Vickís amazing redshirt-freshman debut season.
Many of Virginia Techís rivalís fans have already concluded that Vick will "take the money and run" as soon as itís offered after the 2000 football season, when he can officially declare himself eligible for the NFL draft. However, their reasons for this outlook stem more out of a desire of not wanting to have to see their teams deal with the talented Vick on the field for two, or even three more seasons. I think most Hokie fans can relate to that feeling. Hokie fans only have to think back a few years to the Donovan McNabb era at Syracuse University to understand where theyíre coming from. To me, it felt like McNabb played at Syracuse for ten years.
Throughout the course of the weekendís worth of events, my worries as a Hokie fan regarding Vickís future time as our quarterback and team leader were put to rest. Through my observations of things that were said, and the reaction of certain people to certain circumstances, Iím now totally convinced Michael Vick will not declare himself eligible for the NFL draft until he graduates from Virginia Tech.
Does that mean heíll play 2 more seasons? 3 more seasons? I donít know. It will depend on how fast he fulfills the requirements of his degree. Like Ike Charlton, Vick may end up completing his degree requirements at, or before, the end of his "traditional" fourth year of college. This could fall between December of 2001 and May of 2002, when you factor in his probable taking of summer school courses. Or, itís entirely possible that he may not complete his degree requirements until some point later in 2002, which could mean he might be the Hokies' quarterback for the 2002 season.
Regardless, Iím convinced heíll be at Virginia Tech until he earns his degree. Hereís why.
On Friday morning, the 17th, at the Warwick ceremony to retire Vickís jersey, I had the opportunity to quickly speak with Warwick coach Tommy Reamon to get his reaction to the ceremony. You can read his thoughts at the end of Ookieís Excellent Adventure, Part 1.
But there was something else he said that I didnít include in the article. When Reamon told me to thank all Hokie fans for their support of Michael, I said to him, "I will, Coach. I know I speak for all Hokie fans when I say we just love him, and we hope to keep him around for a little while longer." I kind-of laughed when I said it, just to end the brief conversation on a light-hearted note, but Reamon shook my hand firmly, nodded his head, and sternly said, "You will."
On Saturday, the 18th, a special "Family Breakfast with Michael Vick" was held in the cafeteria of Heritage High School in Newport News. At this breakfast, Virginia Tech Assistant Coach Jim Cavanaugh was the guest speaker. Among other things, Coach Cavanaugh spoke about Vickís recruitment, and about the value of getting an education. Hereís a little of what he said:
"Chuck Amato, the former Assistant Head Coach for Florida State, and now the Head Coach for N.C. State, came up to me after the Sugar Bowl, and reminded me that, a few years ago, I had told him I thought I had signed the best player in America, a left-hander out of Newport News", Cavanaugh said. "Michael has proven me right. Michael has a lot of football left (in him at Virginia Tech)."
"I sat in their (the Boddies, Vickís parents) living room twice (during Michaelís recruitment), and we talked about Michaelís future. I never worried about Michaelís football future."
"But I want to make sure that this young man (Vick) gets his degree. Some will ask, ĎWhat does that piece of paper do?í God willing, and barring injury, Michael is going to play in the NFL, and heíll make a lot of money. We all know that. But that piece of paper symbolizes a long journey. You need your degree to be educated. You can tell when a kid has gone to school. It symbolizes a lot of hard work. That degree means a lot. Iíve been hired, and Iíve been fired. Iíve been on top 10 teams, and Iíve been on bottom ten teams. Iíve been 10-1, and Iíve been 1-10. I know what itís like on both sides. But no one can take away that degree."
Since I was using a mini tape-recorder at the time, I wasnít furiously scribbling notes on what was being said. Instead, I was watching and observing certain peopleís reaction to what Coach Cavanaugh was saying. When he made the statement about wanting to make sure Vick earned his degree, the entire room of over 300 people immediately responded with a round of applause.
My eyes quickly scanned three areas: Vick, who was seated next to Cavanaugh at the podium, Vickís family, who were all seated together at a table just in front of the head table and podium, and Warwick Coach Tommy Reamon, who was also seated at the head table next to Vick. What I observed gave me a comforting feeling.
In reaction to Coach Cavanaugh's statements about getting a degree, Vick smiled, nodded his head, and applauded. Tommy Reamon definitely displayed a reaction that showed he was in complete agreement with Coach Cavanaugh. And Vickís family table, including his mother, father, and grandmother, all vigorously applauded the idea of making sure Vick earns his degree.
These things really started to drive home for me exactly what Coach Reamon spoke about the night before at the dinner party for Vick at the Omni Hotel. Michael Vick has a wonderful support cast of family, friends, mentors, and coaches that have spent a great amount of time and effort shaping and molding this young man to be the best he can be. The entire Newport News community seems to be behind him, and encouraging not only his on-the-field success, but also his continued life success. Itís obvious Vickís continuing pursuit of his education and his degree is extremely important to everyone that cares so much about him.
I really think a lot of this begins with Reamon. Thereís no doubt Vickís family, and especially his mother, have been wonderful in developing Michael as a person, but Reamon has been the mentor when it comes to assisting Vickís decision making process, and offering sage-like advice to Vick in regards to his future. Reamon has done it all. He knows what heís talking about from direct personal experience.
Reamon was a star high school football player. Reamon knows the deal on the college recruiting process from first hand experience. Reamon knows what it takes to succeed at the Division 1 level of college football. Reamon knows the NFL scouting process, and he knows what awaits Vick in his future dealings with sports agents and NFL franchises. Reamon knows the real world outside of the NFL, when a pro football career doesnít pan out. He even has experience in the cut-throat business world of Hollywood.
After all that, Reamon knows the value of his education and his degree. Without his degree, he has stated, he wouldnít be teaching and coaching high school now, and he wouldnít have the opportunity to, as he's stated, "touch young peopleís lives." Seeing the way Michael Vick looks at Tommy Reamon both when they talk, or when Reamon is speaking to a group and Vick is just listening, itís incredibly clear just how much respect Vick has for Reamon, and how much he looks up to him.
I am absolutely convinced that Reamon, as well as Vickís family, both want and expect Michael to earn his degree. I believe that will mean a great deal to Vick when sports agents start throwing astronomical money figures at him, and start trying to scare him by planting thoughts of career ending injuries in his head. And make no mistake, thatís going to happen this year. I believe thereís going to be a multitude of "Bob Sugar's" (for you "Jerry Maguire" fans out there) hanging around like vultures, attempting to contact Vick every chance they get.
Iím not sure what Virginia Tech should do this year to keep agents away from Michael this fall. Maybe Tech should hire a "Special Weapons and Tactics" team to ward off the evil agent presence. Thereís no doubt the agents will be coming after him this fall and winter, maybe even sooner.
Finally, I also want to say that I donít want to sell Michael Vick short in this article. All of these factors discussed are reasons I believe Vick will stay at Virginia Tech until he graduates. But the strongest feeling I have is about Vick himself.
Covering these events for HokieCentral.com gave me a chance to get to know Michael Vick, the person, a little better. Granted, I only talked with him directly for a few short moments, but I did have the opportunity to observe him up-close and watch how he interacted with the people who are closest to him and mean the most. I also had the opportunity to listen to what Vick himself had to say about the importance of school, getting an education, of working hard and setting goals for yourself, and of the value of commitment.
I was told by several sources within the organizational end of the weekend event for Vick, that the primary reason he was agreeable to all the honors and dinner parties, and community events, was he wanted the opportunity to deliver a message to the youth of Newport News. He wanted to show them first hand what getting an education, and setting goals for oneself and working hard to obtain those goals means. Vick wanted to show them that dreams do come true, but it all starts with getting an education.
Hokie fans, this young man has tremendous character. Heís perfectly willing to accept the "role-model" role his success and fame have thrust upon him. For anyone to instantly assume Vick will easily and rapidly be lured by the quick money of the NFL before he graduates from Virginia Tech is seriously selling this young man short. I think graduating from Virginia Tech is a primary goal of Michael Vick, and heís proven to us all that when he sets a goal for himself, heís going to see it through.
An image thatís stuck in my head as I write this article, is the image of one of the film clips of Vick used in the special video presentation produced and shown by the Newport News public school system. Itís not a clip of one of the many jaw-dropping plays of Vick in action on the football field either in high school or at Virginia Tech. It was a clip of Michael Vick in cap and gown, walking across the high school graduation stage, receiving his diploma.
The trademark Vick smile was beaming with pride, and he thrust his fist into the air with a sense of accomplishment.
I believe Michael Vick will graduate from Virginia Tech before moving on to the NFL.
James Arthur is the Business Development Manager and Recruiting Information Coordinator for HokieCentral.com. Periodically, he'll try his hand at reporting with a column.
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