MIDDLE TOWNSHIP - Quarterback Michael Vick is much more adept at driving the Philadelphia Eagles' offense toward the end zone than he is at steering his black Cadillac Escalade.
He arrived about a half-hour late to his first annual charity golf tournament at Stone Harbor Golf Club on Monday because he missed the exit on the Garden State Parkway.
"Now I know how to get to Cape May," Vick said with a laugh. "I had never been down there before. I had read a lot about Cape May in fishing magazines and I know they catch a lot of striped bass there. Now I know where it is."
The wrong turn was merely part of what was initially a frustrating journey for Vick. An avid golfer who usually shoots in the 80s, he had to wait to borrow a set of clubs and some shoes from the Stone Harbor pro shop after losing his gear Sunday at Philadelphia International Airport.
The setbacks didn't prevent him from enjoying himself, however. After thanking sponsors and conducting a few interviews, he joined the approximately 30 golfers who paid $300 apiece to play in the tournament that benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Va., and Philadelphia, as well as other charities.
The organization has always held a special place in Vick's heart. He spent many a day at the Boys Club in Virginia Beach as a youth. It helped him grow as an athlete and he eventually earned a football scholarship to Virginia Tech.
The Boys Club also was where he conquered his biggest fear.
"That's where I first learned how to swim," Vick said. "The only thing I really feared as a boy was drowning in a swimming pool. When I was 8 years old, I dove into the deep end of the pool at the Boys Club by myself. I only swam to the side of the pool, but I did it."
Keeping afloat in life proved much more difficult. He joined the Eagles for the 2009 season after serving almost two years in federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., on dog fighting-related charges.
He is now determined to help others avoid making the same mistakes. Upon arriving at Stone Harbor, he taped an interview for Team Freedom Outreach, an organization dedicated to helping incarcerated teens.
"Having been in prison myself, I know what it's like to have to rehabilitate yourself and start over," said Vick, who donated $10,000 to the group Monday. "I want to help the kids understand their role and purpose in life. The kids who have no sense of direction in life are the ones who usually fall by the wayside and I want to help prevent that. I want to show them that it's OK to dream and that dreams and goals can be accomplished."
On the football field, Vick's goal is to lead the Eagles back to the playoffs after going just 8-8 last season and missing out on the postseason.
He was so disappointed in the Eagles' performance last season that he started working out at the NovaCare Complex just three weeks after the season ended, while the playoffs were still going on.
"It was myself and 'J-Mac' (Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin)," Vick said. "I just wanted to keep working because I felt like our season wasn't supposed to be over, yet."
He never stopped working out during the offseason and was among the more impressive players during the Eagles' recent series of OTAs (organized team activities) and minicamp.
Eagles coach Andy Reid credited Vick for creating a positive atmosphere around the team through his work ethic and energy level.
"It's fun to watch," Reid said last week. "(Vick) was a guy that was here every day and that set the tempo. When you can get your quarterback here (every day), most of the guys are going to follow."
Vick is going to take a little time off to marry longtime fiance Kijafa Frink at Fountainbleau hotel in Miami Beach, Fla., on June 30 before reporting to training camp at Lehigh University on July 22.
Then the Eagles will resume their quest to make up for last season's poor showing.
"This team is full of optimism," Vick said. "We're going to start this season knowing we can win instead of hoping we can win and that's a big difference."
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