Vilma Semi-Finalist for Butkus

University of Miami senior middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been named one of three finalists for the 2003 Butkus Award, the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando (DACO), Inc., announced Thursday morning. The Butkus Award is awarded annually to the best linebacker in college football.

Vilma joins junior Derrick Johnson of Texas and senior Teddy Lehman of Oklahoma as a finalist. The Butkus Award has been presented since 1985 and Vilma is the fifth UM player to be a finalist for the honor. Dan Morgan of Miami won the award in 2000. Other Miami finalists for the Butkus were Ray Lewis (1995), Michael Barrow (1992) and Maurice Crum (1990). The 2003 Butkus Award winner will be announced at the Butkus Award Presentation Ceremony on Friday, December 12, 2003 at the Renaissance Orlando Resort at Sea World.

"I'm tremendously honored and flattered to be named a finalist for the Butkus Award," Vilma said. "To be mentioned among the top linebackers is an amazing honor, especially since I admire Derrick and Teddy and the things they've accomplished on the football field. It's a compliment to my coaches and teammates that I am a finalist and I am looking forward to meeting the other guys in Orlando."

Now in his third full season as a starter, Vilma (Coral Gables, Fla., Coral Gables HS) has led the team in tackles both of the last two seasons and is in the lead through nine games this season with 82 (51 solos) and has nine tackles for losses, one quarterback sack, two quarterback hurries, has recovered two fumbles, has two pass breakups, and one forced fumble. This year, Vilma has become more than the leader of the Miami Hurricanes defense - he's now the entire team's unquestioned leader and one of Miami's finest scholar-athletes.

Vilma has been an impressive player since the beginning of his UM career, in addition to being an excellent student-athlete. Earlier this month, Vilma received an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship from the National Football Foundation as a top football scholar-athlete and is a finalist for the Draddy Award, also known as "The Academic Heisman", awarded annually to the top scholar-athlete in college football.

Vilma has been a key factor in a defensive effort that has the Hurricanes currently listed among the top 20 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, and passing defense. Vilma also is one of three finalists for the 2003 Butkus Award, awarded annually to college football's top linebacker. Vilma was a unanimous first-team All-BIG EAST selection by the league's head coaches in 2002 and a first-team Verizon Academic All-American in 2002. He is a leading contender to nab the conference's Defensive Player of the Year honor in 2003. The University of Miami's Scholar-Athlete of the Year for the 2002-03 academic year, Vilma was the recipient of the 10th Annual Walter Kichefski Football Scholarship Endowment Award last year, presented annually to the top scholar-athlete of the football program by the Kichefski family and the UM Athletic Hall of Fame.

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