Michael Vick's football legacy still impacts younger generation

ATLANTA -- Eric Phoenix is just 16 years old, but he knows enough about Michael Vick to want to emulate the former Atlanta Falcons star.

It seemed only appropriate when Phoenix, a left-handed quarterback prospect from Savannah, Georgia, was named the quarterback MVP at Vick's V7 Elite Playmakers Showcase Series on Sunday afternoon in Atlanta's inner-city.

"I know a lot about Michael Vick," Phoenix said. "I know he went to Virginia Tech, too. And he's the reason why I wear the No. 7."

Phoenix was giddy about the 10 minutes of personal instruction he received from Vick at the start of the event. The other athletes in attendance looked awestruck when Vick arrived at Anderson Park and began slinging the ball around like he was back in the Georgia Dome. Vick simply cautioned the campers not to poke fun at him as he changed T-shirts, knowing his 36-year-old physique isn't nearly the same as it was during his NFL days.

Vick's name certainly continues to resonate, even with the younger generation. He wouldn't want it any other way as he ventures into life after football with aspirations of motivating football prospects nationwide.

"I want this to turn into an academy," Vick said. "This here is our trial run. I think, so far, there's been a great reception in terms of our attendance. I think we have great athletes. And I think this is going to provide an opportunity for us to continue to do this down the road and do it for generations to come."

Vick, who made three Pro Bowls in six seasons with the Falcons (2001-06), became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season with 1,039 yards in 2006, averaging 8.4 yards per carry. Vick was 2-2 in the playoffs, including leading Atlanta to the NFC title game during the 2004 season.

But for Vick, Sunday was just another step in repairing the image he fully understands was tarnished after a 2007 conviction for running a dog fighting operation, a conviction that resulted in a 23-month prison sentence and a messy divorce from the Falcons organization that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2001. He has felt forgiveness from both the city and the team, which is why Vick remains optimistic about having the opportunity to retire as a Falcon.

"I've always felt the forgiveness from the city, even years after coming home and playing in Philadelphia," he said. "At the same time, with the organization it was different. It took a while.

"Mr. [Arthur] Blank and I always kept a relationship, even when I was in prison. That was never severed. He never just abandoned me as a person. I think it just took time to patch up everything with everybody. It just doesn't happen overnight. Time heals all things. I'm just grateful that they all stayed in my corner."

Vick doesn't try to portray himself as a saint. He fully understands his meteoric rise and subsequent fall is a compelling story he can share with others so they don't make similar mistakes. Vick seems genuine in his desire to move far from the negativity of the past and proceed as a positive influence. And he certainly cares about how he'll be remembered in Atlanta, the place where he established his football legacy.

"I want to be remembered as a guy who cared about the game of football, on and off the field," Vick said. "People know what I did off the field. Now it's time for them to recognize what I'm doing off the field. And it starts with educating our kids."

Phoenix received some hands-on training Sunday.

"He said I got better and better every day and when I throw, keep my feet parallel, and he told me to follow through every time," Phoenix said of Vick. "I had a lot of fun. Do I play like Michael Vick? I try."

Merrick Sims watched his son and Michigan defensive back commitment Myles "Spider" Sims walk away with one of the MVP awards Sunday. The elder also got a chance to interact with Vick, a guy he cheered on for years.

"It’s good to see him back in the limelight for the kids," Sims said of Vick. "A lot of kids looked up to him. The kids needed to see him doing positive things. It’s good to have him back in the community. The kids embrace him. And we missed him in football. We hated to see him miss a lot of his prime, but we support him. I was very disappointed with how they treated him. We wanted to know how good he really could have been. But we’re glad to have him back. And we’re glad to have him back here at home."

Of course, Vick wants to see the events continue to grow as he finishes up Memorial Day weekend with a middle-school version Monday. Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports, sees the potential for a lasting impact with Vick's showcase events.

"The high school football camp game becomes more and more saturated each year, but with the right organization and attention to detail, Michael Vick has the name recognition to attract plenty of young football players to come to an event to learn and compete," Wiltfong said. "If he's hands-on with it on the field, he has a chance to really do it big in making it one of the premier opportunities for young men each offseason. Cam Newton is having a lot of success with his product, and Vick is in position to be able to do the same."