ATLANTIC CITY - A little more than a week after Hurricane Sandy devastated this resort town, Michael Vick came to Atlantic City High School with a simple message Tuesday afternoon.
"We will be there for you," the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback said.
Vick spoke to Atlantic City High School football players and cheerleaders and players and cheerleaders from the Atlantic City Dolphins of the Atlantic County Junior Football League.
Vick also visited the Atlantic City Convention Center, which is serving as shelter for storm victims.
Hurricane Sandy adversely affected the lives of many Atlantic City athletes. Several were forced to evacuate. They returned to find their homes flooded and property damaged.
"We want to offer our support," Vick said. "The world hasn't forgotten about you guys."
The Atlantic City football team was an hour into practice in the school gymnasium when Vick showed up.
City officials had tried to keep the visit a surprise for the players and cheerleaders. But a secret like Vick coming to town is tough to keep.
Atlantic City wide receiver and defensive back Dayshawn Reynolds found out Monday that Vick would be visiting.
"I told some (players) that he was coming but they were like, 'No, he's not coming,' " Reynolds said.
Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford said Vick contacted the his office and told him he wanted to visit the city.
Langford introduced Vick to the players and cheerleaders.
"This is a city that is strong," Langford said. "We will recover. We might get knocked down, but we get up."
Vick recalled storms that struck his native Virginia when he was growing up.
"I want to encourage you all to help each other, be there for each other and lead each other," Vick said to the crowd.
Vick then posed for pictures with players, cheerleaders and coaches. He joked with some players and encouraged them to stay together as a team.
Atlantic City freshman Dapree Wright stood right next to Vick when the Vikings' first-year players posed for a picture with a quarterback. Wright smiled and then shook Vick's hand.
"It was cool," Wright said. "I didn't expect him to come here."
Vick's visit brought plenty of smiles to the faces of players and cheerleaders.
"This feels great," Atlantic City senior Ga-briel Chandler said. "Seeing him we know there are people out there helping us out."
After his visit at the high school, Vick went to the storm shelter at the Convention Center. He spoke with victims and handed out Eagles sweatshirts, clothes and toys.
Meanwhile, the Vikings went back to practice after Vick left. Atlantic City (5-2) plays a key game 7 p.m. Friday against Absegami (5-2).
Atlantic City coach Thomas Kelly said Vick's visit offered his a team another lesson in perseverance.
Vick came to Atlantic City less than 24 hours after the Eagles lost 28-13 in New Orleans to the Saints. Vick threw for 272 yards and a touchdown, but the Saints sacked him seven times.
"When I woke up this morning, I half expected to get a call that he wasn't coming after the night he had," Kelly said. "But he got up and came here to speak to my boys. I was already a Mike Vick fan, but now I'm a huge fan. Those are the lessons we try to teach these kids. When you get knocked down, you get back up."
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