Background and college
Born April 16, 1982 in Coral Gables, Florida, and attended Coral Gables High School. Vilma then attended the University of Miami. In 2000, Vilma played in all 11 games as a reserve middle linebacker and stepped up into the starting middle linebacker the following year. Vilma played an integral part of the Hurricanes' National Championship, leading the team in tackles. During his time at Miami, Vilma led the team in tackles twice, was a two-time All Big East selection, finalist for the Dick Butkus Award, and majored in finance.
As a Jet
Vilma was taken with the twelfth pick of the 2004 NFL Draft. In his rookie season Vilma played in 16 games and made 14 starts finishing the season with the second most tackles for the Jets with 118, two sacks, three INT (one returned for a TD), four PD, one FF and one FR. He also added eight special teams' tackles on the season. In the postseason, Vilma recorded 30 tackles (16 solo) and a sack in two starts. As a result, he was named as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press. He was only the third Jet to earn the award, and the first since Hugh Douglas won it in 1995. The following season, he led the NFL in tackles, and was named to the Pro Bowl as a replacement. In 2006 new Jets head coach Eric Mangini changed the Jets defense from 4-3 to 3-4, and Vilma's performance began to drop off. On October 27, 2007, Vilma was placed on injured reserve. He had apparently suffered a season ending knee injury during the Jets week 7 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, though there seemed to be more to the story at the time.