Marcus Vick has long lived in the shadows of his older brother, former Virginia Tech all-American and current Atlanta Falcons star Michael Vick. But as he prepares for his first season as the Hokies' starting quarterback, Marcus faces not only the legacy left by Michael but also the expectations of being the quarterback even his brother hasn't yet become — the electrifying, super-human passer created by NFL marketing gurus, video games and television commercials.
"Man, a lot of people don't realize there's a lot of stress that comes with having that last name," cornerback Jimmy Williams said.
No one knows that better than Marcus Vick, who arrived on the Virginia Tech campus more than a year after his older brother was the No. 1 pick by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2001 NFL draft.
But after a redshirt freshman season that included several spectacular flashes — a 46-yard touchdown pass to Ernest Wilford in an upset of then-No. 2 Miami; a 36-yard touchdown catch from Bryan Randall against California in the Insight Bowl — Vick was exiled to obscurity last fall while the Hokies were winning the ACC in their first season in the conference and his brother was leading the Falcons to within one victory of the Super Bowl. Following his second arrest after the 2003 season, Virginia Tech suspended him from school for the entire 2004 season. Vick re-enrolled in classes in January and won the Hokies' starting quarterback job during spring practice.
"It feels really great to be back," said Vick, a 21-year-old junior. "You can never take things for granted. You've really got to keep your eyes open, watch who your friends are and watch what you're doing out in public."
One of the nation's top high school quarterbacks at Warwick High in Newport News, Va., Marcus Vick is used to being the center of attention. As good as Michael Vick was during his three-year career at Tech — he was college football's most exciting player as a redshirt freshman in 1999, leading the Hokies to their first undefeated regular season and a spot in the national championship game — his younger brother was supposed to be even better, regardless of whether that was realistic expectation for anyone.
"He's Michael Vick's brother so naturally everybody wants to compare him to Michael Vick, which is kind of an unfair comparison," Virginia Tech quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers said. "Michael was a number one pick in the NFL draft, he was at the Heisman Trophy banquet, he played for a national championship. Not too many guys get to do all that. . . .
"In terms of [Marcus] being under the microscope, there's no question. The kid has celebrity status, whether he likes it or not. Consequently, everything he does is going to be magnified. Obviously, he has given people ammunition to be on his case. He's heard enough about the company he keeps and the decisions he makes, ad nauseam. Marcus wants to have a good life. He knows in order to have a good life, he's in charge of that. He's got to make good decisions to have a good life."
Crime and punishment
In May 2004, Vick, Hokies tailback Mike Imoh and wide receiver Brenden Hill were each convicted of three misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of minors for serving alcohol to 14- and 15-year-old girls in an apartment Vick and Hill shared. Two months later, Vick was charged with reckless driving and possession of marijuana, which led to his season-long suspension. Vick's arrests and suspension made national news, partly because of his brother's fame.
During the time he was away from football, Vick stayed away from the public eye. He split time between his mother's home in Newport News and his brother's mansion in suburban Atlanta. He attended several of the Falcons' home games, but rarely watched the Hokies play and seldom talked to his teammates and coaches. It was a painful time, Vick said, and he admits wondering whether he had thrown away his once-promising career.
"I just wondered if I'd be back," Vick said.
Vick said that although most of his teammates welcomed him back to the team, he is still working hard to regain many of the players' trust. He shows up for meetings and workouts early. During the summer, he was one of 16 Virginia Tech football players named "Super Iron Hokie" for his dedication in the team's offseason conditioning program. Vick attended every voluntary workout, setting personal highs with a 330-pound bench press and 450-pound squat.
"I had to prove that I was responsible enough to be the starting quarterback," Vick said. "I had to prove that I wouldn't be there one day and the next day I won't even be around. I had to prove I was responsible."
More than anything, Tech running back Cedric Humes said, Vick's teammates wanted to know whether he had grown up.
"I think everybody trusts him now," Humes said. "We accepted him back immediately. We could see he was ready to come back and had his head on straight and wasn't out doing stupid things."
Off the field, Vick lives alone in an off-campus apartment. He said he spends most of his free time watching TV and playing video games. Vick said he rarely goes to nightclubs near campus, like he did frequently during his first two seasons at the school.
"I'm out. I'm going to class. I'm going out to eat with the guys," Vick said. "I've kind of calmed down and learned how to sit in the house. I'm just trying to have a nice time."
Many of Vick's closest friends say they've noticed a change in his priorities.
"We're more mature now," Imoh said. "We don't need all that extra stuff that got us in trouble."
On the football field, Rogers said Vick's attitude has never been a problem.
"There was never any kind of poor attitude demonstrated," Rogers said. "He's always been a guy that has been a pleasure to coach, great to be around, very respectful, all those kind of things. I hear and read stuff about how he might be spoiled and how everything came easy to him. But that's not even part of the equation; that's never been a problem. He's a humble guy. You'd never even know he was Michael Vick's brother unless you asked him."
But the Vick brothers look alike, talk alike and, as some have suggested, play football similarly. Michael and Marcus Vick are less than four years apart. Both are about 6 feet and weigh close to 215 pounds. Michael throws left-handed; Marcus is right-handed. Rogers said Michael Vick is a more polished passer, although Marcus tends to have a more accurate arm.
"Mechanically, Michael threw the ball better than anybody I've ever seen throw the football," said Rogers, who coached Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb when he played at Syracuse. "Just in terms of quick release, no wasted motion, RPMs on the ball, tight spiral, the whole shooting match. He came in like that, he threw the ball like that when he was at Warwick High School.
"Marcus tends to short-arm the ball at times, doesn't follow through a lot, so he needs some work mechanically. But he has more than enough arm. And probably the greatest attribute he has is he's got an uncanny knack to throw it accurately. He kind of throws it exactly where he wants to throw it. To boot, he's one of the fastest guys on the team, if not the fastest, and he weighs 216 pounds. Marcus could start at tailback for a lot of teams in the country, too."
Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said he sees Michael Vick's most important attribute in his younger brother.
"I always said this about Michael, and I believe it to be very true of Marcus," Beamer said. "As talented as Michael was, I thought the best thing was that he was so competitive. When the game started and the tighter it got, the rougher it got, he was at his best. I think Marcus will do the same thing."
For now, though, Marcus Vick said he's just trying to be himself and not his famous brother.
"Michael did great things here," Vick said. Being compared to him "is something I can handle."