Vilma Gets Wish, Off to Big Apple

It's always nice to have friends in high places. Just ask Jonathan Vilma. Several months ago, the former University of Miami middle-linebacker asked New York Jets' receiver Santana Moss to relay a message to coach Herm Edwards - Vilma wanted to play for the Jets.

Moss, an ex-Hurricane star who resides in Miami during the off-season, wasn't about to let one of his boys down so he picked up the phone and dialed up Edwards to fill him in on Vilma. On Saturday, Vilma got his wish as the Jets drafted the three-time Academic All-Big East selection with the 12th overall pick in the NFL draft.

"It's a perfect fit," said Vilma, one of a school-record six former UM players taken in this year's first-round. "I like everything about the Jets, they want to win. It looks like they have a core of players, and a lot of young good players in there who are real good players."

Edwards is thrilled about having Vilma.

"The thing I like about this guy is that he likes to win. He really doesn't care what he has to do either," said Edwards. "He's going to come in here, and whatever he has to do he'll do. It's great when you can get a guy like that on your team."

Vilma is certainly accustomed to winning. In four seasons at UM, Vilma was part of a program that went 46-4, while capturing a national championship in 2001. Vilma, a two-time Butkus Award candidate, wasted no time in making his presence felt for the Hurricanes. Although he was considered small to play the position, Vilma took over the starting middle-linebacker spot in 2001. He would go on compile 377 tackles as a collegiate and lead the Hurricanes in that category his last three seasons.

And while Edwards admits that Vilma might need help from the defensive-line in order to make plays in the open-field, Edwards also knows the rookie possesses speed, instincts and the ability to play every down.

"He's a great player in space and a guy who can cover," said Edwards. "Down at Miami, he never left the field. I think one of his biggest attributes is that he can do a lot of different things. He'll also play on special teams for us."

There's a strong possibility Vilma will crack the starting line-up as well. Despite the Jets signing linebacker Eric Barton, moving Victor Hobson to starter at strong-side linebacker and retaining veteran middle-linebacker Sam Cowart, every indication is Vilma will get a chance to start at one of the spots.

"I expect to start, that's what I'm going up there for," said Vilma. "I'm not being cocky or conceited, but the way I play I should find myself on the field somewhere."

Well, maybe not anywhere. Largely in part to his size (233 pounds) and sideline-to-sideline speed there has been speculation that Vilma could be moved to strong safety. However, Jets general manager Terry Bradway.

"Oh no. This guy is a linebacker," said Bradway. "We're getting the most instinctive player in the draft."

By all accounts, the Jets are also getting a player with an unblemished past - on and off the field.

"The kid is as solid as a rock," said Joe Montoya, who coached Vilma at Coral Gables High in Miami. "One of the things they won't have to worry about with Jon is his character. He's a great kid."

Jets defensive end Matt Walters, Vilma's former teammate at UM, agrees with Montoya.

"I'll go to war with Jon Vilma, and I'll sign that statement," said Walters.

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