Vilma: A leader through action, not words

Intelligence is an unheralded aspect of football. In the case of middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, however, intelligence is the one thing that everyone wants to talk about.

Vilma, the 2002 Hurricane Scholar-Athlete of the Year, two-time member of the Big East All-Academic Team and Verizon Academic All-American, is not the typical football player.

“Jonathan is a quality young man. His elective class is German. How many football players take German?” Head Coach Larry Coker said.
Vilma’s performance on the field is comparable to his performance in the classroom. Vilma has led the team in tackles the last two seasons including 133 tackles last season that helped him earn unanimous All-Big East First Team Honors. As a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award last season, given to the nation’s best linebacker, Vilma earned national respect.

Vilma was recently featured in an article in Sports Illustrated, giving him even more notoriety.

Despite his achievements in the classroom and on the field, Vilma prides himself on humility.

“I don’t like talking about myself to be truthful, so I don’t think about those type of things,” Vilma said. “I guess they show that I am dedicated and that I take care of my business on and off the field.”

Even though there is a quiet modesty to Vilma, he still takes charge on the defensive end of the field.

“I just try to lead by example, and if I see something I don’t like, I let you know,” Vilma said. “I’m not really trying to be in that role, it is just what I am right now. I think the players see that I’m not trying to hard. I am just out there doing what I do naturally.”

A key aspect to being a leader is earning people’s respect. Through his play on the field and his academic success, Vilma has earned everyone’s respect.

“People respect Jonathan so much that when he talks, everyone listens,” cornerback Kelly Jennings said.

Vilma watches more tape than anyone on the team. He feels preparation is critical to having success on the gridiron.

“He brings the leadership on this team,” defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. “A lot of people look up to him because he knows exactly what to do on the field. He doesn’t make many mistakes.”

Even though Vilma is humble, his teammates are quick to give him praise.

“Vilma is the guy that everyone looks to and leans on for support on and off the field,” Maurice Sikes said. “He is very intelligent, then he gets on the field, and he is a dominant player also. He is someone we look to as our leader and the strength of our team.”

As part of the 2001 national championship team, Vilma knows what it takes to win the big game.

“He is a smart guy, he knows defense and he knows what it takes to win.” Jennings said.

For a guy who can learn German, leading a football team to glory should be a piece of cake.

Darren Grossman can be reached at