Michael Vick becoming the man his supporters hoped

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HAMPTON —

This was the Michael Vick folks want to see, the Michael Vick they need to see.

Roger Goodell, Jeffrey Lurie, Andy Reid, all those who took a serious chance on a felon many consider incorrigible. This was the young man they hoped and prayed Vick would become.

It has nothing to do with Vick the Pro Bowl quarterback, NFL Comeback Player of the Year and Monday Night Football maestro.

It has everything to do with Vick the youth advocate, community benefactor and family man.

Vick returned to his native Peninsula this week to promote his football camp, scheduled for June 22-24 at Hampton University. We chatted for more than half an hour Wednesday at HU's Armstrong Stadium, and the encounter, however brief, was striking.

Gone was the reserved Vick from Warwick High, Virginia Tech and even the Atlanta Falcons. In his place was an engaging, reflective and articulate Vick.

Yes, he has a camp to sell — his bankruptcy remains in the courts — and an image to repair. And yes, only the good Lord knows the degree of his remorse.

But Vick said the right things and said them well.

"Growing up, I'll never forget going to the Bruce Smith camp here at Hampton University," he recalled. "It was actually my first camp when I was playing with the Boys & Girls Club. Seeing Bruce and having the chance to just walk past him and knowing I'd seen him on TV (playing for the Buffalo Bills), it only helped me dream. …

"I'm going to make sure I entice other kids to dream. That's what it's about."

This is the second year of Vick's camp, and it's been two years since his release from federal prison, less than two years since NFL commissioner Goodell and Philadelphia Eagles management — owner Lurie and coach Reid — granted him the ultimate second chance.

Why dredge up Vick's dogfighting past? Because he mentioned it before I did. Because it has forged him in ways we'll never understand

"I always believed I could get back to this point," Vick said. "I just needed a chance, and you never know when that chance is going to come. My theory is, man fears what he can't see.

"I couldn't see it happening or when it was going to happen or where it was going to happen. The only thing I could do was wait, and being incarcerated taught me patience."

Vick speaks frequently to young people about his experiences, and they ask more pointed questions than any reporter.

"I ask them, 'What do you want to know about prison? Ask me anything. I'll tell you the truth,' " Vick said. "I tell them, 'You have a choice. You can take the right path, you can take the wrong path. Do you want to live righteous and do you want to be an ambassador in your community? Do you want to be the best person you can possibly be?' And they understand, especially the older kids."

Does he try to scare some sense into them?

"You know, the thing I don't have to do is scare kids straight because I've been through the prison system," Vick said. "I can be talking in a calm, collected voice, and they'll be, like, 'Really, really?' And I'll say, 'Yeah, really, so don't let it happen to you.' That scares 'em straight right there without having to make up some fictitious story. I just tell them my story, something I witnessed or been a part of."

Such as?

"I can't say," Vick said. "That's too much information. But, it's nothing out of the ordinary that you don't hear about in prison."

Violence? Brutality?

"Prison life," he said. "Prison life. I just stand in front of the microphone and have a dialogue. … Then they'll tell somebody else, who will tell somebody else, spread the word, spread like wildfire. Next thing you know, you've got 50 kids thinking a certain way instead of two, which is paramount."

Kids are more likely to listen to a star, and Vick reclaimed that status last season, leading the Eagles to the NFC East title and authoring one of the greatest performances in Monday Night Football history — 333 yards and four touchdowns passing, 80 yards and two scores rushing — in a rout of the Washington Redskins.

Vick understands such moments are fleeting, especially with labor unrest threatening to delay or cancel the 2011 season.

"This is it for me," he said of his career's closing years. "I feel like I've catapulted myself into a position to be one of the greats and down the stretch, this is when it counts."

Vick turns 31 later this month, and like all of us, he's a work in progress. He's not where he wants to be as a quarterback, or a man, but he appears to be striving every day.

What more can you ask?

"I'm blessed," Vick said. "I thank God for the opportunities I've been given and the situation He created for me. … I'm looking forward to interacting with the kids, looking forward to teaching, looking forward to helping and guiding. This is an opportunity to help these kids take their games to the next level, take their minds to the next level."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/ teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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