Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech (1999-2001)
Vick completely changed the landscape of a program, a school, and a position in only two years at Virginia Tech. He arrived on the scene as a redshirt freshman in 1999, and wasted no time establishing himself as a dynamic playmaker at the quarterback position.
In his first game against James Madison, he ran for three touchdowns in the first half…on four carries. The show had only begun.
Throughout that rookie campaign, Vick continued to dominate opponents single-handedly with an unprecedented combination of world-class speed and cannon-like arm strength.
He led the Hokies to an unbeaten regular season and their first-ever berth in the national championship game. He was named the player of the year at the ESPY Awards following the season, and was third in the Heisman Trophy voting, the highest finish ever for a freshman at the time.
He returned for his sophomore year with meteoric expectations. Tech returned many key pieces on the offensive side of the ball to support him, and the defense was strong as usual. The Hokies were cruising on their way to a potential national championship when disaster struck.
Vick sprained his ankle in the third quarter of a 37-34 win over Pittsburgh. The injury kept him out of the following week’s game against unbeaten and third-ranked Miami on the road. The Hokies were ranked second in the country at the time, but without Vick were unable to keep up with the Hurricanes, and the championship dreams were dashed.
Vick returned three weeks later to beat Virginia in the season finale. Then came the Gator Bowl, which turned out to be the final game for Vick in a Hokie uniform. In front of a sold-out crowd at Alltell Stadium, Vick led the Hokies to a 41-20 win over Clemson, earning game MVP honors and bidding farewell to college football.
Following the Michael Vick experience, Virginia Tech went from a program on the rise to one of the premier teams in the country. The talent level of recruits to the program instantly took a leap forward, and national media began to give more attention to the small agricultural school from Blacksburg, Va.
More importantly in the landscape of college football, Vick truly changed the way the position was played. Following his departure, many teams across the country began playing more mobile quarterbacks who have the ability to beat teams by scrambling, rather than simply dropping back and passing the ball.
Prior to the Vick era, mobile quarterbacks were seen as a uncommon advantage for an offense. In the years following, they were seen as a near necessity. Not a bad impact for only two seasons.