- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 1999

NEWPORT NEWS, Va.
Even the drug dealers who worked Michael Vick's neighborhood knew "Ookie" was special.
"They saw Mike as somebody who was going to be something someday and kept him away from the drugs and all that," said Kevin Stanley, who grew up with Vick in the Ridley Circle Apartments on the seamy south side of Newport News. "They weren't trying to target him out on the corner. They were like, 'Hey, Ook, stay away from here. Go throw a football or something.' "
In the last four months, the entire college world has come to recognize Vick's special skills: The left arm that seems more howitzer than human. The blurry release. The flashing feet. The uncanny instincts. The 41-inch vertical leap. The 350-pound bench press. The outrageous talent bundled in the form of a 19-year-old redshirt freshman.
Not since Herschel Walker carried Georgia to the national championship in 1980 has a freshman had such an impact on the college game.
Quite simply, Vick is the juice behind the juggernaut. The Virginia Tech quarterback began the season in inexperienced anonymity and wound up as a Heisman finalist who pushed the Hokies (11-0) to the brink of a national championship.
"I didn't envision this not going to the Sugar Bowl to play for the national championship," the 6-foot-1, 217-pound Vick said two weeks ago. "I didn't envision going to New York for the Heisman Trophy [ceremony]. It all just came together. And I think that was because I had a great group of people around me."
Off the field, Vick always has had a solid supporting cast. And for those folks, the people who know him best, his early success comes as little surprise.

The Mom


For some reason 35-year-old Brenda Boddie still can't explain, the only thing her boy ever did with his left arm was throw a ball.
"That boy wrote and ate with his right hand did just about everything that way," Vick's mother said just before Christmas, staring somewhere beyond the family room into the vault of her memory. "Then I saw him playing in the backyard one day they were always back there playing and he was throwing with his left.
"I don't know how old he was 6 maybe. All I know is when he threw it the other kids always said it hurt. I thought to myself right then that arm was a gift from God."
It must have seemed like one of precious few gifts back then.
Two of Vick's three siblings, Christina (20) and Marcus (15), were born before Michael Boddie married Brenda Vick and moved into the Ridley Circle complex with his family in 1989.
Michael Sr. was a painter. He was a hard, quiet man who worked alone and never quite understood that children needed more than food, clothing and shelter.
The oldest son, nicknamed "Ookie" at age 2 by his aunt Tina for reasons nobody seems to remember, had taken to sleeping with a Bible for comfort instead of a blanket by the time he was 6. He never understood why his father left his teen-aged mother and grandmother to fend for the family all those years.
"I guess I was both the father and mother for most of Ookie's childhood," Brenda said. "Even when his father moved in, he and Ookie were never close. My husband just didn't know how to express himself … He takes care of his kids, but he doesn't talk to them a whole lot. I always have to tell him that he needs to talk to them love 'em up and everything."
But most of the love came from Brenda. She found time to lavish affection on her four children despite a schedule that included high school classes and a full-time job. She describes Michael as a "worrisome child" who struggled with his grades in middle school and always pushed her limits.
"Ookie was definitely the most spoiled," said Brenda, who works for Enterprise Rental Co. and has missed only four of Michael's games since ninth grade. "He was always bugging me for the latest pair of shoes or whatever. He seemed to forget that he wasn't my only child.
"But he had that smile, you know? Everybody always loved that smile, and he had me charmed from way back. He also had that gift, and I wanted to make sure he had everything he needed to make the most of it."

The Introduction


In the summer before his freshman year in high school, Vick met the man who would make certain he made the most of his gift.
Tommy Reamon, Vick's coach throughout high school, never will forget the first session of two-a-days in August 1994.
"Michael came to practice going into the ninth grade at Ferguson High the year after his cousin, Aaron Brooks, left to go to Virginia. He walked right up to me and said that he wanted to be the next quarterback," said Reamon, who coached at Warwick High after Ferguson closed in 1995. "I basically did not have a quarterback that year. I had an athlete named Marcellus Harris, who is now a starting wide receiver at East Carolina. He was going into the season as the quarterback because he was a junior.
"So I looked at this presumptuous kid I'd never met or seen before and laughed and said, 'Sure, that's good.' "
"About 10 minutes later, I wasn't laughing. All it took was one pass. Guys were throwing the ball around to loosen up before practice. He zipped that thing, and I said, 'Man, he's going to be special.' I've been saying it ever since."
Vick spent the first five games of the 1994 season on Ferguson's junior varsity team, ripping through opposing defenses like a gar among guppies. Reamon, to the dismay of the Ferguson faithful, promoted him to the varsity midway through the season and started him in lieu of Harris in the team's sixth game.
"I decided to throw him to the wolves against a playoff team, and he was like two of 18 or two of 20 in his first varsity game," Reamon said. "Some of our fans screamed at me for replacing Marcellus with a freshman. Well, the very next week, Michael was 13 of 15, throwing for a single-game district record of 432 yards and four touchdowns. And three of those touchdowns were to guess who? … Marcellus Harris. All of a sudden, that boy's got me looking like a genius."

The Mentor


Reamon is the first to admit he's no genius. But he's not some whistle-toting wannabe living out his coaching fantasy in the boonies either. Few high school coaches are more aware of the talent and temperament it takes to forge a successful pro career.
A Newport News native, Reamon was one of the top junior college players in history as a tailback at Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College.
The only player to be named the nation's JUCO offensive player of the year in consecutive seasons, Reamon rushed for 6,500 yards and 46 touchdowns at Fort Scott. He led the Greyhounds to the NJCAA championship in 1971 and back to the title game in 1972.
Reamon completed his collegiate career at Missouri and earned All-Big Eight honors his senior season. He was drafted in 1975 by both the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers and the upstart World Football League's Virginia Ambassadors, who were scheduled to play their home games in Newport News.
He desperately wanted to play in the NFL, but he felt slighted by his sixth-round selection. And he wasn't willing to sign with the Super Bowl champion Steelers and sit behind Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. So he signed with the Ambassadors a decision that would prove to be the first miscalculation in a career defined by poor judgment and worse luck.
Before the WFL's inaugural season, the Virginia franchise was bought out, moved to Orlando and renamed the Florida Blazers. Reamon followed the team to Florida but refused to hire an agent. He negotiated his own contract, deferring his salary to the end of the season, when he would be compensated on a performance basis.
His performance under Blazers coach Jack Pardee was extraordinary. He led the league in rushing (1,576 yards) and scoring (18 touchdowns), besting WFL stars like Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick. But the league folded after its first season, and Reamon never saw a cent of his deferred salary earning only a three-way split of the league's $10,000 MVP bonus.
He went on to make NFL rosters in Kansas City (1976) and Pittsburgh (1977) but played sparingly. He blew out his knee in 1977 and was cut in subsequent training camps by Chicago, Washington (1978) and San Francisco.
In 1979, while serving as an assistant coach under Terry Donahue at UCLA, Reamon auditioned for the role of Dellma Huddle in the film "North Dallas Forty." He landed the part, modeled after Cowboys receiver Bob Hayes, and began a second career in Hollywood.
He was a regular on 19 TV shows between 1979 and 1985, including "Charlie's Angels," "Hill Street Blues," and "Quincy," but football was always his passion. And in 1988, Reamon returned to Newport News and the game he loved.
"I had been running summer camps with Walter Payton and Mean Joe Greene for years, so high school coaching was a natural… . When Michael came along, I knew that God had sent me into coaching for a reason. He aggressively pursued me to make an impact in his life, and I did that. I pretty much have controlled and guided his academic/athletic career."

The Education


In Vick, Reamon found a receptive conduit for his knowledge and experience. In Reamon, Vick found the outspoken, informed counsel his father never provided.
"I wouldn't be where I am without coach Reamon," said Vick, who followed Reamon to Warwick High when Ferguson closed. "We were always talking about my responsibilities as a player and a person. He taught me a lot about football, but he taught me a lot more about life."
When Vick was suspended for 10 days in the spring of his junior year for bringing a beeper to school, Reamon didn't lobby to have his star player's punishment reduced. Instead, he hand-delivered Vick's assignments during the suspension and rigorously enforced Vick's house arrest.
When Vick was overshadowed throughout his high school career by nearby Hampton High quarterback Ronald Curry (the nation's top-rated prep prospect in both football and basketball in 1997), Reamon sat him down and explained that envy and anger were performance-sapping emotions.
When Vick was ranked the No. 5 quarterback prospect in the nation by Superprep Magazine in 1997, Reamon took charge of the recruiting process. Vick, who accumulated 6,000 yards of total offense and 61 touchdowns in his high school career, attracted a slew of college suitors to Warwick during his senior season. But nobody talked to Vick or his family without Reamon's consent.
Vick idolized Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb, and his mother favored the Orangemen because she liked coach Paul Pasqualoni. Reamon liked Virginia Tech because coach Frank Beamer agreed to redshirt Vick. Case closed. Decision made.
When Vick's grades began slipping after he committed to the Hokies, Reamon asked his teachers to gather for a roundtable discussion on the ills of academic complacency.
"He listened without shrugging that off," said Jimmie Espich, who has been teaching high school English for 35 years. "We all warned him that when he went away to college there were going to be people hanging around all the time saying, 'Forget about the books. What do these people know about all that?' At that point things turned around, and he finished the year with all A's and B's.
"Allen Iverson went to school in this area. And when I was at Ferguson, my students would all say, 'Yeah, he's a hot athlete, but he never did any of his own work. Girls at that school did all of his work for him.' Well, we were always proud to say that Michael was doing his own work. . . He's one of America's good kids."
And last month, when Vick was college football's sensation du jour at the Heisman Trophy award ceremony, Reamon sat down with his charge in their New York hotel room and showered him with reality instead of praise.
"I put it in his head that this is business from this point on," the 46-year-old Reamon said. "He has to hear it because that's exactly what it is. To be a Heisman Trophy candidate is real. Now you're private life is gone, and you have to produce year in and year out. What you do outside of that field is going to affect your life. You better watch who you touch, who you look at, how you smell and everything else.
"I didn't have somebody telling me a lot when I was the hottest thing coming out of JC… . Certain decisions I made when I played professional ball I shouldn't have made. So he's getting an alter-ego. He's getting somebody who's been there saying, 'Hey, keep your head on.'
"The way he's handling himself is no fluke. I've poured my soul into this boy to make sure he doesn't make the same mistakes that I did to make sure he has the proper perspective and the tools to cope with this attention on and off the field. The boy's having fun. He's living a dream. But he also needs to appreciate reality."

The Man


The reality is that Vick passed for 1,840 yards and 12 touchdowns in his 10 starts this season. He threw just two interceptions in his last eight starts as a first-year college quarterback.
The reality is that he rushed for 782 yards and eight touchdowns this season and awed the nation with his abilities as an artist of improvisation.
"Virginia Tech's season isn't just a little accident that occurred," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said, describing Virginia Tech's bolt to the big-time. "This is a culmination of a team that has built up, that reached its peak and was lacking a quarterback. And the guy showed up. The guy that could make them a great team showed up, and now they're the real deal."
The reality is that Vick, not Florida State flanker Peter Warrick, might be the most exciting player in the college game. Vick touches the ball on every offensive snap, has the total confidence of his coaches and teammates and plays with poise that belies his experience.
"I know Florida State is going to come after me and try to hit me late and do whatever they have to do to get me rattled," Vick said. "They're probably thinking, 'Oh, he's only a redshirt freshman. He ain't seen no defense like us.' But no situation this year has fazed me yet.
"I look at it as fun not a reason to be scared. I know they're going to knock me around a little bit, but that's part of the game. And that's what I love the most about this game the competitiveness just brings out the fire in me. I'm ready. . . In the end, I do see us winning this football game. I'm not saying it with arrogance. I just think that we have a great chance."
Bravado or self-assurance? In six days, Vick will take the field at the Superdome on Tuesday and every football fan in the country will watch the prodigy try to fulfill his prediction against the top-ranked Seminoles.
"I wouldn't bet against him," said Stanley, a 19-year-old Marine who once was Vick's favorite backyard target. "Everybody else might be all carried away with this game, but Ook will be out there just doing his thing and having fun like always. None of this is any surprise to me. Everybody around here always knew he was destined for greatness."

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