Vick Becomes Hokies' Top Recruiting Prospect - Again
The Roth Report
January 8, 2001
By Bill Roth
Our buddy Doug Doughty, the respected and talented sportswriter for The Roanoke Times, annually compiles a list of Virginia's college football prospects. Over the years, Doughty has been remarkably accurate in ranking potential recruits and his Christmas Day list usually makes its way on the bulletin board or refrigerator of Virginia Tech fans everywhere. We even invite Doug to participate in the annual Hokie Hotline Recruiting Special, with Tech coach Frank Beamer every February - and Doug always comes through with nuggets of information and spicy commentary.

If you follow it closely, you know that Tech is having a record-setting year in its in-state recruiting, having already received verbal commitments from six of the top 12 prospects on Doughty's list, including three of the top five.

But without question, Virginia Tech's No. 1 recruiting target in January of 2001 is the same young man who topped the Hokies' list in January of 1998. Regardless of how many players from this year's Roanoke Times' top 25 Tech eventually signs, the Hokies' recruiting focus in the next week is on a young man who was on the list three years ago.

Michael Vick, the Gator Bowl MVP, will again have his services courted by the Hokies. Michael Vick has moved from Doughty's top five to Mel Kiper's top five in just three years - a transition which has sent Beamer and his staff back to work recruiting the electrifying and sensational quarterback who has led the Hokies to a pair of 11-1 seasons. The difference this time: Instead of battling Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni on the Vick recruiting trail, Tech is battling Ben Franklin. Actually a stack of Ben Franklins (and a big stack at that).

Last week, Beamer, members of his coaching staff, and Tech compliance director Tim Parker hopped on the school plane in Blacksburg and flew to Newport News, Va.- as they have done so often in recruiting over the years. This trip, however, was to meet with Vick, his family, and his high school coach - the colorful and influential Tommy Reamon. Selfishly, the Hokies want Vick to return to Tech for his junior season. And for good reason because the Hokies would be a top-five team with Vick, but perhaps just a top-30 team without him.

More than a 'recruiting trip,' however, Beamer and Co. made the trip to meet with Vick and his family to ensure they received accurate information on Vick's NFL prospects from NFL insiders. Vick has until Friday to declare for the NFL Draft, and thus, must make the biggest decision of his life - and do it quickly.

This we know for sure:
  • If Vick leaves for the NFL now, he will be a very rich man within the next two weeks. The money will be substantial, although there is a good chance the San Diego Chargers - who have the first pick - might trade the pick or trade Vick himself. That means he has no idea where he might be playing.
  • If Vick returns for his junior season and continues to improve - and every NFL scout which came through Tech's football offices this season maintains he needs more seasoning - he knows that the money in the 2002 draft will be even greater. Vick would be a leader for the Heisman Trophy and Tech is a sure-fire national championship contender. Charley Casserly, the Houston Texans general manager, visited Blacksburg last fall to inform Beamer that the Texans would likely take the Hokies' quarterback with the first pick in next year's draft if he is available.
  • If Vick returns, but sustains a career-ending injury during his junior year at Tech, he knows it could cost him untold millions of dollars.
With that in mind, two different insurance companies have made proposals to Vick and his family with unprecedented disability coverage - the most ever for a college athlete. That coverage would protect Vick and set him up financially for life if he suffers a career-ending injury. Beamer and his staff discussed the insurance policy, how the premiums would be paid and other issues at the meeting last week.

Pro Football Weekly says Vick not ready

While Virginia Tech's Michael Vick may be the frontrunner for the next generation of NFL quarterbacks, nobody that Pro Football Weekly spoke to felt he was ready to enter the pros now and many said he may need two more years, not one. While all the experts call Vick a phenomenal athlete and potential top pick with rare speed for a quarterback and a powerful arm, that is where they stop and hit people with the fact he is short, has poor passing technique, does not even step into his throws, lacks some accuracy and touch, does not read coverages well, and at times, plays almost like a schoolyard/sandlot-type quarterback. Here's a sampling of opinions of Vick:
  • "His passing technique is not very good. He throws flat-footed without even stepping into his throws, he throws a lot of balls off balance and a lot of times he does not even point his shoulder toward the target. He doesn't read coverages that well yet and plays like a kid off the sandlots at times."
  • "While he is even stronger, faster and more athletic than Steve Young was and has a far superior arm, Vick is where Young was during his sophomore year in college. In two years, this kid could be the hottest QB property since Troy Aikman. But right now he is a huge project."
  • "You don't take a 10-month-old colt and run him in the Kentucky Derby. This kid could grow up to be a champion, but he needs time to grow up."
  • "He is the best running quarterback I have ever seen and a top pick, but he is not ready and would be jeopardizing his pro career by coming out now."

Then, the entire group participated in a conference call with Indianapolis Colts GM Bill Polian, who explained the NFL salary structure and gave Vick various options. Thanks to Polian, Vick heard first-hand how the process of drafting players and how the signing of contracts works. Polian talked about how the extra year helped Purdue quarterback Drew Brees, who had also considered coming out early but returned for the 2000 season and led the Boilermakers to the Rose Bowl.

After the hour-long session with Polian ended, Beamer arranged for Vick to speak with former Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb, who just completed a marvelous season with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. McNabb wrestled with the same dilemma after his junior season, but returned for his senior year at SU in 1998 and led the Orangemen to the BIG EAST championship and the Orange Bowl. McNabb and Vick have a prior relationship - SU's quarterback was the host for Vick on Vick's recruiting visit to Syracuse in 1998. And on the day before the 1999 Virginia Tech-Temple game at Veterans Stadium, McNabb called Vick on a cell phone during the Hokies' Friday practice to wish Tech's freshman 'good luck.'

Beamer also arranged for Vick to speak with former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, who stayed in college for all four years and has blossomed into an outstanding quarterback for the Colts. Finally, Casserly called and provided more interesting information for Vick and his family and restated the Texans interest in potentially drafting Vick in next year's draft.

Clearly, the Hokies (and Casserly) want Vick to come back to Tech for at least one more season. Beamer and his staff presented information for Vick from others who have made a similar decision in the past couple of years. The consensus from both NFL players and general managers is that he should return, but that he must make the decision that's best for him and his family.

Which brings us back to Tech's recruiting efforts. In less than a month, the Hokies will likely secure the best in-state haul of Virginia recruits since The Roanoke Times started listing its top 25. It should be Tech's best recruiting year ever.

Tech coaches hope Vick will pick Tech for at least one more year too.

BIG EAST representing
You haven't heard much about this from the national media, but the BIG EAST posted the best bowl record of any conference, finishing 4-1. Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College and West Virginia all won bowls, while only Pittsburgh lost. Here's how the bowl season finished for the leagues whose champions participate in the BCS:

1. BIG EAST  4-1
2. Pac-10    3-2
3. Big-12    4-3
4. SEC       4-5
5. Big 10    2-4
6. ACC       1-4
The BIG EAST's success comes after the league posted its best-ever winning percentage vs. non-league teams during the regular season and set an all-time conference attendance record. The future for the league has never looked brighter as it moves to its new television home (ABC) starting this fall.

Rutgers and West Virginia have new coaches who come from successful high-profile programs. The Scarlet Knights Greg Schiano (former Miami defensive coordinator) and WVU's Rich Rodriguez (Clemson nsive coordinator) should add life to their respective programs.

Pittsburgh - which moves into its new stadium this fall - made a bold move when it denied Ohio State's request to talk with football coach Walt Harris after the Buckeyes fired coach John Cooper. Harris was Ohio State's quarterback coach and was offered the offensivnator's position at OSU before Pittsburgh hired him in 1997.

Last year, Harris signed a seven-year, $4.2 million dollar extension to coach the Panthers and Pittsburgh Athletic Director Steve Pedersen wasn't about to let OSU end the growing momentum which is building around Pittsburgh football. Harris issued a statement saying he was happy at Pittsburgh and comfortable with Pedersen's move to block the Buckeyes' interview request.

A great broadcaster passes on
West Virginia University, college athletics and broadcasters everywhere lost a great friend this past week with the passing of long time Mountaineers' announcer Jack Fleming. Born in Morgantown, Fleming had a long career as the voice of the Mountaineers and NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers. He called WVU football and basketball for 42 years. Although he also called the games for the NBA's Chicago Bulls for a brief period, Fleming was at his best doing a football game, especially during the Steelers' glory days of the 1970s and the Mountaineers' of the early and mid-1980s.

Fleming, 77, had a great voice and a great passion for his teams. He always joked that he bled 'Gold and Blue' and it came through in his broadcasts. He had a great passion for his beloved Mountaineers. But more than a fan, he was a great nuts-and-bolts broadcaster. He used vivid verbs to describe plays and would re-cap and re-describe a play right after it happened - a technique that many of us in the business use today.

Fleming loved the Mountaineers so much that he joked to me that "I can't believe I'm sending my daughter to Virginia Tech." He always asked (jokingly) if I'd ask President Paul Torgersen for a 'tuition waiver' for his daughter since he was paying out-of-state tuition. Sure enough, his oldest daughter graduated from Tech a couple of years ago. She's a Hokie, but dad will always be a Mountaineer.

Fleming stopped calling the Mountaineers' games a few years ago, but did a daily radio commentary and wrote for WVU's website on a weekly basis. He was a great guy, a good friend and one of the best broadcasters to ever call a football game. We'll miss him.

This week, for the final time, he said "Goodbye to Mountaineer Fans ... everywhere."

Renewing an old rivalry
Saturday afternoon, Virginia Tech faces Georgetown at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., in the first ever BIG EAST basketball game between the two schools. Tech and Georgetown have a long rivalry that dates back to the beginning of the century. In fact, the opening line of the VPI Victory March - which is played at every Tech football and basketball game these days- states "We have seen the Hoyas tumble.... ." Seems back at the turn of the century, Georgetown was one of Tech's biggest rivals, especially in football.

Of course, during the 1987-88 basketball season, the Hoyas did tumble to the Hokies in a game played at the Hampton Coliseum. Bimbo Coles and Wally Lancaster led Tech to the upset of John Thompson's Hoyas - a performance that essentially secured Coles a spot on the 1988 USA Olympic basketball team, which Thompson coached.

Tech's victory in Hampton was followed by two VT-Georgetown games at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. In the 1988 game - which was played over Christmas break - there must have been 12,000 Virginia Tech fans at the Cap Centre. Although Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutumbo proved too talented and too big for the Hokies, (Tech's big men were Greg Brink and Dave Herbster - two great kids, but hardly NBA All-Stars in the making), it was a great showing by Northern Virginia and Metro-DC area Tech alums that made the atmosphere electric.

Georgetown is averaging just 4,459 fans per game and drew a season-high 11,187 for last Saturday's game against No. 11 Seton Hall. The MCI Center seats 20,600. Here's hoping Tech fans can fill the place on Saturday for the game which tips at 2 p.m. as they did for the 1988 game.

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