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Michael Vick pleaded guilty in the summer to charges relating to a dogfighting operation he financed. ((Doug Pensinger/Getty Images))

Michael Vick was sentenced Monday in Richmond, Va., to 23 months in prison for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy.

The suspended NFL star had faced up to five years in prisonwhen he wassentencedby U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson.However, it was thoughtVick was more likelyto receive12 to 18 months.

Dressed in a black and white striped prison suit, Vick, 27,apologized to the court and his family.

Hudson responded, "You need to apologize to the millions of young people who looked up to you."

"Yes, sir," said Vick.

The Atlanta Falcons quarterbackacknowledged he used "poor judgment" and added, "I'm willing to deal with the consequences and accept responsibility for my actions."

Before the hearing started, Vick's brother, Marcus Vick, sat with his right arm around their mother, comforting her as she buried her head in her hands and wept.

Vick pleaded guilty in August, admitting he bankrolled the Bad News Kennels dogfighting operation and helped kill six to eight dogs.

Inhis plea agreement, he admitted bankrolling the dogfighting ring on his six-hectare property in rural southeastern Virginia, andhelping execute under performing pit bullsby drowning, hanging and other means. Vickalso admitted providing money for bets on the fights but said he never shared in any winnings.

Vick's pleacameafter Quoins Phillips of Atlanta, Parnell Peace of Virginia Beach, Va., and Tony Taylor of Hampton, Va., pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Vick, who hails from Newport News, Va.

Phillips was sentenced to 21 months whilePeace got18 months.Taylor will be sentenced on Friday. The three men and Vick still face state charges in Virginia, with Vick scheduled for an April 2 trial date.

Vick publicly apologized for his role in the dogfighting operation and turned himself in Nov. 19 to voluntarily begin serving his federal prison term early. He was being held in a state jail in Warsaw, Va.

The case began in April when a drug investigation of a Vick relative led authorities to the Surry County property, where they found dozens of pit bulls — some of them injured — and an assortment of dogfighting paraphernalia.

Vick, a three-time Pro Bowler who set an NFL record for quarterbacks by rushing for 1,039 yards last season, signed a 10-year, $130-million US contract extension with the Falcons on Dec. 23, 2004.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank calledVick's sentencing "another step in his legal journey."

"This is a difficult day for Michael's family and for a lot of us, including many of our players and fans who have been emotionally invested in Michael over the years," Blank said Monday.

"We sincerely hope that Michael will use this time to continue to focus his efforts on making positive changes in his life, and we wish him well in that regard."

By 8 a.m. ET Monday— two hoursbefore Vick's sentencing wasdue to take place —about 50 people were in line outside the courthouse waiting for the doors to open. About two dozen animal rights activists stood across the street holding posters showing injured pit bulls and the messages, "Report Dogfighters" and "Dogs Deserve Justice."

"We want to make sure the focus on the animals in this case isn't lost," said Dan Shannon, spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

With files from the Associated Press