All the standard high school accolades for a top ranked Miami recruit were present. One of the top three defensive lineman in the state. USA Today and SuperPrep All American. The #10 defensive lineman nationally. Ran a 5.2 in the 40 (at 6'2" and 310 pounds), made 88 tackles in his junior season while consistently facing the double team, 72 tackles and 11 sacks as a senior and even finished second in state for the Class 6A shot put and discus.
As a freshman in 2001, Wilfork added depth to a National Championship caliber defensive line. He saw extensive action in 11 games, finished 10th on the team in tackles - despite not starting a game - and made a habit of bowling over opponents en route to taking down the quarterback. Wilfork led all freshman in tackles with 41 (24 unassisted) with 11 for loss. He hit the ground running as a Cane in his first game, at Penn State. Two tackles and five quarterback hurries helped Miami dominate defensively in the 33-7 beat down. Other highlights for Wilfork were forcing three fumbles in 2001 (Rutgers, West Virginia and Washington) and two outings with 7 tackles (Rutgers and Washington.)
Entering 2002, Wilfork was still not a starter due to a ton of depth at the position, but he still was the 11th leading tackler for the Canes while playing behind William Joseph and Matt Walters. He was credited with 43 tackles (19 solo – 15 for loss), seven sacks, eight quarterback hurries, a pass deflection and a forced fumble. A career best 9 tackles were totaled in the annual grudge match with Florida State – which Miami won 28-27.
On an extremely somber note, Wilfork lost both parents in a six month span. His father David to complications stemming from a decade long battle with diabetes. Barbara Wilfork passed away five weeks after suffering a stroke in September 2002. Vince missed Miami's 26-3 victory over Tennessee to be by his mother's bedside but returned to the team a week later for the 28-21 Thursday night win over Pittsburgh.
Wilfork's final three regular season outings were average. He totaled 6 tackles and assisted the Canes, but his heart was elsewhere. His efforts in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State were commendable and his one tackle outing was absolutely forgivable considering he lost his mother a mere 18 days prior.
The opportunity to make the leap to the NFL after 2002 was there for Wilfork. His skills were recognized and his size, skills, speed and abilities would've earned him a first round pick in 2003. Instead, he chose to return to Miami. His home. His family.
"I might only have one brother by blood, but I've got 100 brothers on this team," Wilfork said. "I no longer have my father, but I've got 12 dads here, thanks to my coaches.
"I let the young guys here know money isn't everything. When people tell me, "You could have gone to the NFL and been a millionaire,' I'm like, "Man, it's not about the money. It's about the love of the game.' "
His love of the game landed him preseason accolades going into the 2003 football season. Lombardi Award Candidate. Outland Trophy Candidate. Nagurski Award Candidate. All-America Candidate. All-BIG EAST Conference Candidate. Wilfork assumed a starting defensive tackle role and was rated the #2 DT in the game. Comparisons to former UM greats Warren Sapp, Russell Maryland and Cortez Kennedy were now being dropped on the 21 year old junior.
In 2003, Wilfork totaled 50 tackles – surpassing his numbers in 2001 and 2002. His breakout performance came in game two against Florida where he posted 8 tackles and a sack. He posted 5 tackles and a fumble recovery in the regular season outing against Florida State, 6 tackles in the loss at Virginia Tech and a seven tackle effort against the Noles – Part Deux in the 2004 Orange Bowl, leaving a lasting impression on the college football world. The numbers proved that Wilfork gets up for the big game and was the cornerstone of Miami's defensive line in their 11-2 season of 2003.
With the NFL Draft just over a week away, Vince Wilfork is steadily moving up the draft boards. He has been projected as high as #5 to Washington and as low as #17 to Cincinnati. Atlanta also likes him at #8, Houston at #10 and Tampa Bay at #15. As of today, Houston looks like the front runner to select Big Daddy. Head Coach Dom Capers loves the 3-4 defense and feels that Wilfork could be "the guy" who anchors Houston's line for years to come. Texans' in state rivals – the Dallas Cowboys – have also chimed in on Wilfork. Head Coach Bill Parcells referred to Wilfork as the type of guy to build a team around. Parcells made this comment when Wilfork was still a sophomore.
At a recent pro day on the University of Miami's campus, Wilfork got that former 5.2 40-yard dash down to a 5.0. He weighed in at 323 pounds – down from the 344 he was listed at in the 2003 media guide. Questions about Wilfork's weight have finally subsided as he's proven he knows how to maintain an ideal playing weight.
According to the experts, the skinny on Wilfork is as follows. He's a huge with great athletic ability for a player his size. He makes plays in opponent's backfields and has the skills to dominate a game at times. Stuffs the run, occupies blockers and commands a double team to be stopped. He possesses a low center of gravity which gives him great leverage while his quick feet give him a burst that many don't have. Combine all that with what Wilfork endured year in and out at Miami practices against some of the best talent in the game and one will understand while Big Daddy's motor never slowed down.
A few knocks on Wilfork are him not yet being the pass rusher that former Cane Warren Sapp was (give him time, people), having somewhat short arms and an imperfect tackling technique. Outside of that, he appears to have all the tools to be a complete package.
Come draft day, the hardworking, talented Wilfork will reap the rewards of returning for his junior season at Miami. Three solid seasons as a focal point of one of the nation's top defenses proved his mettle. Whether rotating in his first two seasons or starting as a junior, Wilfork always found a way to dominate. The tragic loss of his parents kept Wilfork at Miami an extra season – but it also allowed him to bond with teammates, learn from coaches, control his weight, avoid injury and increase his draft status with a solid season – saving a big time performance for the greatest stage, a nationally televised Orange Bowl beating of rival Florida State.
Born and raised in Miami, FL and a CanesTime.com columnist since 1996, Chris Bello now resides in San Diego, CA and handles online sales for http://www.allcanes.com. Feel free to send your comments or to contact him at email@example.com