Forgive and forget

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

Ronyell Whitaker wants to get back in a locker-room so he can hang out with the guys, shoot the breeze and play football for a living again.

So does one of his good friends, Michael Vick.

Whitaker, a 30-year-old former NFL cornerback who was added to Winnipeg's training camp roster on Sunday afternoon, has known Vick, the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback, since they were teenagers.

They played in the same high school conference, they made their official visits to Virginia Tech together, and they were roommates for two years while playing for the Hokies.

When Vick was released from prison last month after serving 19 months for his role in a dogfighting ring, Whitaker went to visit him while he was under house arrest.

"I tell you like I tell everybody else: He's a great friend of mine. He's just trying to bounce back like anybody else who made a mistake in their life. That's all it is," Whitaker said.

"He's learned from it. I went to his house. Guess what kind of pet he's got now -- goldfish. And guess how many he has -- one. He told me, 'I'm sticking to fish now. Just one. I don't need two, I don't need three.' I said, 'That's my man.' "

Vick is currently suspended by the NFL, which prevents him from playing in the CFL after the Ricky Williams rule was implemented two years ago. According to one league exec, no CFL team even has Vick on its negotiation list.

Whitaker said Vick just wants to play football again, regardless of where it is.

"He just wants to get back. He told me, 'If there's a league in Alaska, I'll go play. I just want to get back.' He's missing more of the camaraderie and being around the guys.

"And he also wants to be embraced when he comes in, where they say, 'We'll accept you. We're past that, and we accept you.' That's his main thing, because we know he can play."

Whitaker has also shown the ability to play. The Norfolk, Va., native has appeared in 31 NFL games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings, starting one contest for the Bucs in 2003 and two with the Vikes in 2006.

He also had four interceptions for the Rhein Fire in the spring of 2006, which tied for the second-best mark in NFL Europe that season.

When the Bomber coaches recently asked his former Virginia Tech teammates if Whitaker could play, Ike Charlton and Bryan Randall said yes. Whitaker is well on his way to proving them right after being one of the best defensive backs on the field yesterday.

"My whole thing is making sure I came in and just performed," he said. "These guys recommended me to come to the team, so I don't want to make them look bad. I want to come in and play at a high level."

He could be an asset in the locker-room, too. Before he was even cleared to practise on Sunday he was bouncing around the sidelines, giving pats of encouragement to anyone around him who made a good play.

He's similarly effervescent in person, always smiling and often tapping the interviewer on the arm when delivering the punch line to a joke. Think Pinball Clemons, only taller.

Whitaker's smile is even bigger these days because he's playing with Charlton again.

"Ike, to this day, still calls me the protege, because he kind of took me under his wing," he said. "When I couldn't find classes he helped me and things like that. There was always a connection."

Another link between the two will always be Vick. Despite his troubled past, they won't stop supporting him.

"We were talking about him yesterday at dinner, and Ike was telling guys he doesn't have a thug bone in him," Whitaker said. "It was just being around the wrong people and getting sucked into that. That's all."


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