For Michael Vick, it was time to move on.
"I realize that I still have a lot to learn," the Virginia Tech quarterback said Thursday in his hometown. "But the opportunity was presented for me and I just said to myself, `Be a man, not a boy, and take advantage of the opportunity.' "
Vick, a redshirt sophomore widely regarded as college football's most dazzling player, gave up his final two years of eligibility to enter the NFL draft. He is projected as possibly the No. 1 choice.
Flanked by his mother and father and with about 250 more family, friends and fans looking on in the gymnasium of the Hampton Roads Boys & Girls Club, he said the chance to help them made it too hard to turn away from the NFL's money.
"This has been one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make in my life," he said. "My family is so important to me and now I have an opportunity to take care of them."
The announcement, widely reported for two days, was greeted with cheers and applause by the throng, and brought tears to Hokies coach Frank Beamer's eyes.
"I like the guy," Beamer said after Vick finished, a tissue in one hand wiping tears away as they dripped down his face. "He's a great player, but he's a wonderful person. He's a winner. He's tough. And now I'm his No. 1 fan."
Vick, who had twice pledged to return to Virginia Tech next season, said he considered the possibility of sustaining a career-ending injury or having his stock drop while mulling his decision. He also spoke with NFL players, executives and several agents trying to learn as much as he could about his options.
"It's a big relief," he said of finally making the decision. "I'm just hoping and praying I made the right decision."
Some have said that Vick isn't ready for the NFL and suggested he could help himself more by staying in school for more seasoning, the way Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb and Steve McNair did after pondering an early exit to the NFL.
But for Vick, who arrived at the Boys & Girls Club in the tough neighborhood where he grew up driving a new silver Lexus GS-300, the opportunity won out.
"It's going to take time," the 20-year-old player said of his transition to the pros. "I'm not the greatest player in the world and I won't be the greatest player in the world when I step on an NFL field. But believe me, with a couple of years of maturing and a couple of years of experience, maybe I will be the greatest."
And if the team that drafts you wants you to be able to lay right away?
"Regardless of any situation, I'll just have to deal with it," he said. "If I'm thrown into the fire, then I'll just have to be thrown into the fire."
Vick's mother, Brenda Boddie, said she was glad the process is over, but cautious because her son could end up 3,000 miles away in San Diego. The Chargers have the top selection in this year's draft after finishing 1-15 this season.
"I cried all the way to Virginia Tech and all the way home," she said of taking him to school for the first time. "I'm going to be crying a lot more now."
Ronyell Whitaker, a Hokies defensive back who accompanied Vick to the news conference, said the team will hold no ill will toward their departed star.
"You might never see another Michael Vick," he said. "He wanted to do things for his family. If I had the same opportunity, I'd do the same thing."
The Hokies, who figured to be a national title contender with Vick in the fold next year, will have to do some scrambling to fill the void, Beamer said.
"We're not as good now as we were yesterday," he said.
But Beamer said Vick's contribution will last long after Vick has gone. The Hokies played for the national championship last season and have finished No. 2 and No. 6 in the polls the last two years, their best finishes in history.
"In every way, our program is better because Michael Vick has been there," Beamer said. "I hope the people at the next level do what's right for him."
Vick, who retreated to a back room and signed autographs for about an hour following the announcement, seemed resolved to handle whatever comes next.
"I've made the decision, and I won't look back," he said.
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