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Bob Wooten: Ex-sheriff, QB facing music for bad deeds

On the surface, two men couldn't have less in common than Michael Vick and Danny Presgraves.

The former is a famous professional athlete who grew up on the meanest streets of Newport News. The latter is a country boy raised in Page County, a rural mountain community where he would eventually become sheriff.

The big similarity is both came to realize different versions of the same American dream: That no matter how humble your roots, anyone can succeed through hard work, talent and dedication.

And both saw their dreams become nightmares because they dabbled in blood sports.

They shared the headlines this week, Vick taking his first steps toward redemption, Presgraves his first toward federal prison.

Let's start with Presgraves, who on Friday pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering in a plea deal reached with federal prosecutors. He could spend up to 20 years behind bars.

Not long ago, he was possibly the most popular elected official in Page County, serving in his third term as sheriff, a job that he easily could have held for life.

Presgraves was nominated in 2003 for national sheriff of the year by then-Attorney General Jerry Kilgore. In 2006, he was named Page's citizen of the year and elected treasurer of the Virginia Sheriff's Association.

The fall was swift, steep and hard. His undoing stemmed from a federal investigation into cockfighting in Page County. Presgraves was accused of protecting the operation in exchange for a campaign contribution. A litany of other allegations came to light during the probe, including claims of money laundering, use of inmate labor for personal projects and sexual harassment of female employees in his office.

Just hours before Presgraves stood before a federal judge in Harrisonburg to enter his plea, Vick was rising from an equally dizzying fall, briefly taking the field as an NFL quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Not long ago, Vick was the one sitting in a federal prison cell, serving 18 months for his role in running a dogfighting ring in Virginia. It cost him his lucrative position with the Atlanta Falcons and the fortune he had made through product endorsements.

Vick's return to the NFL offends many, especially dog lovers. Others worry about restoring him to the playing field where he will inevitably be seen as a role model for young fans. They aren't buying Vick's aggressive apology tour aimed at convincing the public he is a changed man.

No one, of course, knows what's in his heart. Vick's conduct from this point will be the only way to validate this second chance.

For Presgraves, the possibilities for a second chance in life are difficult to envision. If sentenced to the maximum, he would be a 67-year-old man when freed from prison, a return to his law enforcement career all but impossible.

Vick is living proof, however, that there are second acts in American life. The curtain has just been raised on his.

The script for Presgraves' next act has yet to be written.

Bob Wooten is the managing editor of the Daily. Contact him at 800-296-5137 or at bwooten@nvdaily.com.

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