"He threw one pass against us from his own 45 to the back of our end zone, and it was a strike," says Tony Berry, a cornerback for Rutgers. "That was in the first half, when he threw four touchdown passes and ran for a fifth score. If I remember right, Vick's first pass of the game came on the first play, and it went 80 yards for a touchdown. When something like that happens to a defense, to be honest, if s frightening. You step back and try to reevaluate. But what is there to reevaluate? The guy is why someone like me plays the game—to play against the best."
In spring practice Vick ran the 40 in 4.25 seconds, even faster than the 4-33 he put up a year ago, and faster than everyone else on the Virginia Tech roster. Vick bench-presses 340 pounds, jerks 310 and squats 515. His vertical leap is 40�", half a foot better than the team record he set when he reported to Blacksburg in August 1998. "We were lifting the other day, doing these overhead dumbbell pulls, and it was like there were bricks coming out of his armpits," says Dave Meyer, Vick's backup at quarterback. "The guy has muscles coming out of his ears. When you see him without a shirt on and see his back.... I can tell you, there aren't many people in this world with a back like that. I'll let you in on a secret: He doesn't eat very well. I try to eat my chicken breast and vegetables. But Mike can throw any kind of junk food in his body, and it turns out good. He can live on Coke and candy, and he's still a machine."
Had he not become the country's best quarterback heading into the 2000 season, Vick might've been its best I-back. In a different era—before Jamelle Holieway, Charlie Ward and Donovan McNabb, black athletes all, distinguished themselves at a position once reserved for whites—becoming a running back likely would have been Vick's destiny. Sports analysts, forever looking for comparables, struggle when trying to place Vick in a historical context. They don't know if he better resembles Steve Young with Tony Dorsett's running ability or Barry Sanders with Dan Marino's throwing arm. Or, and this is the question that has come up time and again since his performance in the Sugar Bowl, is Vick a new land of quarterback, the next step in football's evolutionary ladder, an athlete who single-handedly reinvents how his position is played?
"He's different, isn't he?" says Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, with a proprietary chuckle. "But I have to tell you something—that's not what's most impressive about him. With Michael, the thing you see in him the first time you meet him is the same thing you see in him every time thereafter. He's kind and polite, he speaks well, and he's a good person. It's been my experience that with some people who are talented athletes, you admire what they do athletically, but you don't want to hang around them very long. In Michael's case the opposite is true. You want to be with him all the time. All the players, the coaches. We can't get enough of him."
Neither, so it seems, can Hokies fans. In Blacksburg, Vick can't go to Wal-Mart without being mobbed. He gladly signs autographs, although for kicks he's been known to feign confusion when admirers ask if he's who they think he is. "Ah, no," he says, pointing to whichever teammate happens to be handy. "He's Michael Vick. But thanks."
The school has produced great NFL players—defensive lineman Bruce Smith was a two-time All-America and the first player taken in the 1985 draft, and wide receiver Carroll Dale, quarterback Don Strock and wideout Antonio Freeman also played for Virginia Tech—but never has Blacksburg experienced celebrity of Vick's magnitude. At this year's spring game 20,000 spectators watched Vick and the Hokies, nearly triple the average attendance of the past few years.
"Wherever I go," says senior guard Matt Lehr, "people say, 'What's he like? Is he cocky? Is he a big airhead?' Considering all the attention he gets, the guy could be a problem. But Mike doesn't seem affected by it at all. He's still just one of the guys in the locker room. He's still quiet, considerate of others, a gentleman. Truth is, Michael Vick is almost too good to be true."
Vick's only flaw, if you listen to his coaches and teammates, is his soft voice, which can get lost in the crowd noise during games. In the huddle players exhort him to speak up, and at the line of scrimmage it's not always easy to hear him, especially when he's calling an audible.
In high school, Vick explains, the last thing a quarterback had to worry about was having his voice drowned out by crowd noise. His team at Warwick High wasn't that good (20-13 during his 3? seasons as a starter there), and except for the annual game with rival Hampton High, there were rarely many spectators on hand. "In college I learned pretty fast that you can't be a leader on the field and do a baby count," says Vick. "At first I was just calling signals in my regular voice—you know, like you and I are talking. But everybody's saying, 'I can't hear you,' and the coaches are screaming. Believe me, I shout it out now; I let it go."
Asked if there were other aspects of the game that Vick could improve on, junior fullback Jarrett Ferguson thought for a moment and replied, "Well, he's so spontaneous you never know where he's going to go. That can make it hard to block for him. One second you think he's behind you, but he's already reversed his field. You look left and he's gone right. I wouldn't describe this as a weakness, though. What other quarterback can do what he does?"