PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Michael Vick, speaking to a group of Philadelphia high school students Tuesday, warned against the dangers of peer pressure and offered himself as a cautionary tale of what can happen when someone is a follower instead of a leader.

The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback addressed a rapt audience of 200 freshmen on their first day at Nueva Esperanza Academy, a North Philadelphia charter school. He urged students to make the right choices and to resist the temptation to follow the crowd.

Vick used his conviction for operating a dogfighting ring as an example of the result of bowing to peer pressure. Speaking without notes, Vick told the students his decisions imperiled the goals he had set for himself since childhood.

“Growing up, I had dreams and I always wanted to have this great, lavish life and make it to the NFL, go and accomplish great things and leave a great legacy. That was my goal from a young kid,” Vick said. “My future was promising … at some point, I got sidetracked. I started listening to my friends and doing some things that were not ethical and not right.”

Vick visited the school with Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Once the highest paid player in the NFL, Vick spent 18 months in prison and was suspended from the league following his conviction in August 2007 on charges of conspiracy and organizing the dogfighting ring. He was released from federal custody on July 20 and the Eagles signed him last month.

Several animal rights groups criticized the team’s decision to sign the quarterback, saying he is a poor example for young people.

Eagles spokeswoman Pamela Browner-Crawley has said the team has an obligation to the community and work with children particularly, to discourage them from engaging in dogfighting or any animal abuse.

Vick is suspended for the first two games of the regular season. The Eagles have placed him on the exempt list and he cannot practice with the team until Week 3.

In two preseason games, Vick completed 11 of 15 passes for 45 yards with one interception and rushed for 36 yards on eight carries with one touchdown.