- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Marcus Vick was prepared for all the extra scrutiny, knowing it came with the territory after his college years were marred by roguish, out-of-control behavior. He was ready to fess up to his mistakes, show everyone he had changed.

Still, he couldn’t help but grimace at the inevitable whispers, the hushed comparisons to other Guys Gone Wild.

Psst, here’s a tip making the rounds: Stay away from Michael Vick’s little brother in the NFL Draft. He’s another Maurice Clarett or Lawrence Phillips waiting to happen.

“That kind of hurts me,” Marcus said. “Maurice and Lawrence were definitely guys who had a bad past. They’re not even in the league anymore. But I’m a hard worker. I’m going to keep on fighting through my ups and downs. That’s the difference between me and them.”

Vick is one of the most intriguing players in this weekend’s draft, a talented quarterback with famous bloodlines who managed to get into all sorts of trouble during his stormy career at Virginia Tech.

Reckless driving. Marijuana possession. Serving alcohol to underage girls. Speeding. Driving with a suspended license. Allegations that he pulled a gun on three people in a McDonald’s parking lot.

On the field, Vick reacted with an obscene gesture at West Virginia when the home fans taunted him. Then, after being tackled in the Gator Bowl, he stomped on the left calf of Louisville defensive star Elvis Dumervil.

“Just because he’s my brother, that doesn’t give him the right to step on another player’s leg during a game. It doesn’t give him the right to get into some of the other situations he’s gotten himself into,” said Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons’ Pro Bowl quarterback.

“Marcus was very immature. He thought a lot of things were going to be given to him just because he was my little brother. He had to learn the hard way.”

The younger Vick’s college career ended a year early — after he had already missed an entire season for disciplinary reasons. With basically no other options, he entered the NFL Draft knowing he wasn’t exactly a hot commodity.

Vick took part in the scouting combine at Indianapolis, facing hard questions about his character. But no one invited him to a personal workout or interview. A few teams called up, looking for a number where he can be reached during the two-day draft, but plenty of players get that tantalizing request and never hear back.

“The trend in the NFL is away from bad-character guys,” said Mike Mayock, a draft analyst for the NFL Network. “The teams that have been winning a lot of games, like Pittsburgh, New England, Philadelphia, Carolina are typically good-character teams. Teams are shying away from those other type of guys.”

Especially when they see how a team can get burned picking someone with a questionable background. Just ask the Rams, who used a first-round pick on Phillips and then let him go when trouble found him again. Or the Broncos, who inexplicably drafted Clarett in the third round — and cut him before he ever played in a regular-season game. He was last seen in court, facing robbery charges.

So, where does Mayock think Vick will be drafted?

“If he had perfect character, he would probably be a late first-day type of prospect,” Mayock said, meaning the second or third round. “Given where he is today, he’s probably a sixth- or seventh-round pick at best, and maybe even a priority free agent.”

All Vick wants is a chance. That’s basically the pitch he made in Indy when he got to meet with coaches and general managers.

“I was basically just laying it all on the line,” he said. “Hey, I’ve made mistakes. I just want to bounce back from the mistakes I’ve made.”

The message drew a mixed reaction, at best.

“Some of them felt my pain,” Vick conceded. “Some teams didn’t.”

In the past three months, he spent extensive time in Georgia with his older brother. Marcus and Michael have worked out together, talked football and had plenty of heart-to-heart discussions.

Recently, Michael spoke bluntly about his brother’s troubles.

“He needs to realize that he’s a grown man now,” Michael said. “This is his livelihood.”

But Michael also believes his brother has matured greatly in the past few months, growing to realize his next mistake might be his last as far as getting a chance to play in the NFL.

“He just needs someone to take a chance on him and mold him into the person he needs to be,” Michael said. “What he needs is someone to take him under their wing, tell him what he needs to do and what not to do, because I’m not going to be there for him anymore.”

There are plenty of reasons to believe in Marcus Vick.

In 24 career games at Virginia Tech, he threw for 2,868 yards with 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He also ran 184 times for 492 yards and six touchdowns. In his final season with the Hokies, Vick made the All-ACC team and was just one vote shy of being named the league’s offensive player of the year.

Vick also has shown a willingness to be a team player. As a high school sophomore, he played the entire season at receiver because there were older players ahead of him at quarterback. His freshman year at Virginia Tech, he again took reps at receiver because the Hokies were set at QB with Bryan Randall.

“I’m a guy who will go out and do whatever I can do to help the team,” Vick insisted. “Me and Mike are different. Mike never had to deal with that. … Mike was always a quarterback.”

Indeed, Marcus isn’t a carbon copy of his brother. While they are about the same size, the 6-foot, 201-pound Marcus doesn’t have his brother’s speed. Then again, he’s probably has more potential as a passer.

“He’s not as good an athlete as his older brother. He’s not as dangerous a runner as his older brother,” Mayock said. “He’s got a better innate feel for the passing game than his brother did at this time of his career.”

But Michael Vick casts a large shadow. He always came first, setting an impossibly high standard his kid brother was inevitably measured against — first at the Boys Club in their hometown of Newport News, Va., then at Virginia Tech and now, possibly, in the NFL.

“I love my older brother. He paved my life for me. He put my whole family on his back in college,” Marcus said. “But there’s ups and downs with that. When things are going good, he’s a great person to have as your brother. When bad things happen, everybody knows about it.”

At least in the pros, Marcus would get a chance to carve a niche of his own. There’s no chance of the Falcons drafting another Vick — and that’s just fine with both of them.

“That would just be adding more pressure to him,” Michael said.

Because of a nearly four-year age difference, Marcus has never gotten a chance to go against his older brother on the football field. Their personal battles have been confined mostly to pickup basketball, where Michael got the best of Marcus the last time they played a serious game.

“That 41-inch vertical leap is hard to deal with,” the kid brother joked.

But turning serious, it’s clear he wants to make a name for himself.

“I always wanted to be the opposite of Mike. I never wanted to be on the same team,” Marcus said. “I’m always trying to get a shot at him. I want to beat him. You always want to beat your older brother. I’m looking forward to that.”

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