Matching the hype
Michaelmania rages through Virginia Tech
Posted: Friday December 10, 1999 07:54 PM
Michael Vick is the first freshman to lead Division I quarterbacks in passing efficiency. Doug Pensinger/Allsport
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) -- Keith Short was in the dark like everyone
Oh, he had heard the hype about Michael Vick, the freshman
phenom who was being redshirted, but as Virginia Tech's first-team
center last season, Short was working with that unit while Vick
toiled for the scout team against the defense.
Roommate John Engelberger, a starting defensive end, filled him
"Engelberger would come home every day and say, 'Wow. That kid
Vick's amazing. He's making all these throws and we can't stop
him,'" Short said this season, recalling the somewhat startling
admission from a defensive stalwart. Defense, after all, had keyed
the Hokies' rise in status throughout Short's career.
One year later, though, it all has changed because of Vick, a
lefthander with the almost unfair combination of a powerful arm,
breakaway speed and a seasoned understanding of the game. He's the
most exciting player in college football and has turned Virginia
Tech into a balanced team and championship contender.
And now, with "Hokiesmania" having gone national and Virginia
Tech bound for the Sugar Bowl against Florida State,
"Michaelmania" has taken on a life of its own, too, as the
national awards and citations have taken center stage.
Big East offensive player of the year. First-team All-American
by The Sporting News. And now, the first freshman finalist invited
to the Heisman Trophy presentation, to be made Saturday at the
Downtown Athletic Club in New York.
Vick, who has remained as reserved and soft-spoken off the field
as he is dazzling on it, greeted the news with equal parts
disbelief and reverence.
"I really can't believe this has happened. This whole season
has been great, but I never thought this would happen. I'm very
fortunate," he said Monday.
Vick said he thinks the Heisman Trophy should be for
upperclassmen, but added that being a finalist "makes it that much
more special for me."
Vick led the nation with a 180.4 quarterback rating, ahead of
fellow Heisman invitees Joe Hamilton of Georgia Tech (175.0) and
Chad Pennington of Marshall (171.4). He's the first freshman to
lead Division I-A in passing efficiency.
For opposing coaches, Vick's first season had been frightening.
Boston College coach Tom O'Brien said Vick is playing at a level
Charlie Ward and Donovan McNabb didn't reach until their third or
fourth years. West Virginia's Don Nehlen called him the best deep
passer he's ever seen. Even Florida State's Bobby Bowden has
coveted the 19-year-old he'll face on Jan. 4 in New Orleans.
Vick's teammates even more fully appreciate his importance to
Corey Moore set a Big East record with 17 sacks and has
collected some impressive hardware himself recently: the Mike
Fox-Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player, the
Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman.
But all season, Moore has insisted Vick is what makes the Hokies
"The guy is unbelievable," Moore said after Virginia Tech beat
Boston College to complete its first perfect season in 81 years,
with Vick throwing for three TDs. "He's our team MVP. He's the
reason we're 11-0. He's our sparkplug."
And it didn't take Vick long to establish that he was for real.
In the Hokies' season-opener against James Madison, Vick ran for
three touchdowns, the last a spectacular 7-yard run that ended with
him diving from the 3, flipping completely after being hit and
landing on his feet in the end zone.
It also featured the first of many perfectly thrown deep balls,
a 60-yarder that hit Ricky Hall in stride just out of the reach of
a defender, and a 54-yard touchdown scramble, the first of five
scoring runs of at least 46 yards.
Vick finished the year with 12 touchdown passes, four that went
for at least 59 yards. He threw just five interceptions, three in
his second start Sept. 23.
Most importantly, said Short, Vick never lost his cool, whether
he was throwing those three interceptions in a close, nationally
televised game against Clemson or facing 85 yards with no timeouts
and 1:15 left against West Virginia.
"He gives our offensive line confidence because he's just such
a confident player," the senior said. "I've never seen him get
down or look nervous or anything. He keeps his head up and keeps us
in the game at all times."
Against West Virginia, Vick made perhaps his most remarkable
play while driving the Hokies 58 yards to set up Shayne Graham's
season-saving field goal.
Flushed from the pocket from his own 38, Vick raced to the right
sideline and appeared ready to step out of bounds and settle for a
10-yard gain. But when the Mountaineers apparently thought the same
thing and didn't close in quickly, Vick burst forward again,
hurdled a defender and turned it into a 26-yard gain.
Three plays later, Graham's kick gave the Hokies the 22-20
victory, capping a drive in which Vick completed three passes for
32 yards and ran the other 26.
Moore, who sprinted off the field so fans and teammates wouldn't
see him crying, said he never doubted Vick would manage to pull it
out. Six games into the redshirt freshman's career, Moore was
already sold on his teammate's magic.
"We put a lot on his shoulders, but he's done a great job of
handling it," said Moore, whose last college game will be the
Sugar Bowl. "People are going to want to come here to play with
Michael Vick. Heck, I wish I had another year."
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