Vilma leads as man in the middle

Junior middle linebacker, Jonathan Vilma, has emerged as a proven leader for the Hurricane defense.

Vilma leads the Hurricanes with 49 total tackles, 24 solos, and 25 assisted, after six games in the 2002 season. Two weeks ago against FSU, he compiled a career high 15 tackles. It was the second time in the last three weeks that Vilma has had double-figures in tackles, as well as the sixth time in his career.

Vilma has won Big East defensive player of the week two times this season.

“You just want to get to the ball and make sure when you go down, he’s going down with you,” said Vilma. “If you play with a lot of emotion, passion and intensity, you will get to the ball. If you get to the ball, obviously you’re going to bring them down. 75% of that is just pure heart.”

Frustration haunted Vilma and his teammates after the game against Florida State. If someone would have told him that the ‘Canes were going to give up 300 yards rushing against FSU, he would have thought they were crazy.

“It wasn’t anything specific,” Vilma stated. “It was just that mentally we were making so many mistakes. We watched the film this week; we were basically just giving them points. It was just technique things, and we had the bye week, and even the rest of the season, to get it corrected.”

Even as a veteran, Vilma realizes that he personally had mistakes along with the new comers. It was a collective effort by the team that caused the ‘Canes to struggle for their last victory.

“We were just taking bad angles towards them. There were just silly mistakes being made, things we have been going over since two-a-days, and it just showed,” said Vilma.

FSU’s offense made plays and the bottom line was, Miami’s didn’t.

“Mental mistakes” seem to be the re-occurring phrase when the players explain what went wrong. Some admitted that they under-estimated the game against the ‘Noles, while concentrating on upcoming more challenging games. However when they wanted to stop FSU or score on them, they did. That shows how much character and drive the ‘Canes have, and they just need to hold that intensity for four quarters of a game.

“It wasn’t like anyone was getting run over or getting blown off the line of scrimmage, it was just being out of position mentally and stuff like that,” assured Vilma. “That’s just what really hurts right there. We really don’t do those things. It was just like, ‘I can’t believe we had a bust like that.’ It was more like us not doing what we needed to do to get them down on the ground.”

The coaching staff was frustrated as well because they were just unintelligent mistakes. On the flip side, that is comforting because these were small things that can easily be corrected. It wasn’t as though the team would need to take a whole summer to get stronger in order to fix these blunders.

In the third quarter, Vilma established his leadership, along with his teammate Jerome McDougle, as they gave the ‘Canes a mini pep talk. They gathered up the team and told them to focus and get on the same page so the errors they were making could be eliminated.

After the close victory, the Hurricanes were not satisfied. Last week’s bye week was not a walk in the park for them. The ‘Canes were glued to the TV watching tape, and their minds were refreshed with all the fundamentals.

“We’re going to be better when we play the rest of our season, and especially Virginia Teach to end the season- no doubt about it,” said Vilma. “We’re going to be smarter when we get into the game and not have the same mental mistakes that we had against FSU. So when they or any other team tries to run the ball, hopefully we’ll be in position to make the plays.”

By practicing together everyday, Vilma and the rest of the ‘Canes become one big family. He enjoys spending free time additionally with his teammates, as he often takes up a friendly game of pool with sophomore tailback Willis McGahee.

Vilma assures that there will be a re-match, after winning a few and loosing a few, referring to not only the pool game, however the ‘Canes game as well, to illustrate their skills and show what the outcome is when they play up to their ability.

“You learn that you can come away with a ‘W’ and you still have mistakes,” Vilma said. “There are still things you have to learn and need to correct, it’s just a learning process that you go through during the season. We’re just glad we got the ‘W’ and we’re going to keep moving on.”

You can reach Dana Strokovsky at