TAMPA, Fla. -- Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick enjoyed a rebirth on the football field last season after his career was almost washed away by a 23-month prison sentence for bankrolling a dogfighting ring.
The NFL's muddy labor situation could put his career on hold yet again, but Vick plans to continue his off-the-field growth even if the labor impasse wipes out next season.
Vick and former NFL coach Tony Dungy joined about 35 volunteers from Abe Brown Ministries in a visit to a Tampa-area prison Saturday. Vick shared his own experiences with them as well as the lessons he learned from his incarceration.
Vick spoke to a group of about 1,000 current and soon-to-be-released inmates at Avon Park (Fla.) Correctional Institution. He said it was his first visit to a prison outside of his own stay in federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan.
"It was very humbling and at the same time, a bit overwhelming. You really didn't know what to expect," Vick said. "Hopefully I can be an example to somebody. The thing that I was trying to get across is that we all can be instruments of change. That's something that I've been proactive about since I stepped out of prison and I'm enjoying every minute of it."
Abe Brown Ministries, named after late former high school football coach, school administrator and pastor Abraham Brown, has been involved with prison outreach since its founding in 1976. Dungy was introduced to it in 1996 while still coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and developed a relationship with Brown.
After Brown died last year, Dungy continued to support the nonprofit group and vowed to continue to help it continue its work. Dungy and Vick also were planning to attend a celebration Saturday night for what would have been Brown's 84th birthday.
"I told Michael when we met in Leavenworth is that he'd be able to do some things, say some things and reach some people that no one else can," Dungy said. "Other people can go in and say 'Here is what you should do.' "It may be coming from somebody who they really respect, but not somebody who really knows what they've been through.
"When they see Mike, they say 'Here's somebody that lived in my shoes for two years.'"
Vick, who credits his return to football to his rediscovered Christian faith, said he is interested in continuing to work with Abe Brown Ministries and other outreach groups. Dungy said he will welcome Vick whenever he wants to join the group, but said he expects the NFL Comeback Player of the Year to be playing football next year despite the seemingly grim outlook for labor discussions.
"There will be football next year. There definitely will," Dungy said. "I don't know how much we'll get Michael. We certainly won't be able to get him during the season. But Abe Brown Ministries has been doing this for over 30 years. And Rev. Brown, this was the first one I've done without him. He asked me to go in 1996 and I've been going 15 years. It's something he did and we're kinda continuing to keep the ministry going."
If the lockout is prolonged, Vick said he plans to organize some informal workouts with his teammates, particularly the younger players.
"Being a veteran, I think that's important that I take on a leadership role and try to rally the guys to make sure we're being responsible and taking care of our bodies to be ready -- whenever this thing is over," he said.
Vick said his own prison stay also gives him added perspective about having football unexpectedly taken away for an undetermined amount of time. He said he plans to lean on that experience as the NFL's labor strife continues.
"It does, but at the same time you have to be optimistic in a situation like this," Vick said. "I really don't think about the worst-case scenario because I believe there will be football one day soon. So I'll plan for that.
"Everything will work out, we just have to be patient."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press