My brain started rolling. Who was the mystery player? There were rumors earlier in the day that it was indeed Jon Vilma, but I was unable to confirm until I walked by his car has he pulled up into the Hecht Center parking lot. I saw a very well dressed former No. 51 emerge from his car, family by his side and you couldn’t tell who had the bigger smile, Jon, or his parents.
I made my way up through Hecht, back to the Edgerrin James Team Meeting Room and as soon as I walked through the door, Vilma’s booming voice bellowed as NFL Network piece on him ran on the big screen. By this point there was no mystery who was in the house and who the gift was from.
Vilma’s gift – a $450,000 donation – will be put towards the construction of the Schwartz Center for Athletic Excellence. The project will get underway just after Thanksgiving and in order to thank the former linebacker great for his donation, the football players’ lounge will now be called the ‘Jonathan Vilma Football Players Lounge’.
Where did the idea for Vilma to donate back to his alma mater come from? I bet you’ll fall off your chair. “It actually started with Randy Shannon,” Vilma told the undersized crowd. “He was the inspiration for me to do it.”
Vilma went on to say, “this is about the future, it’s about bringing the Hurricanes back to dominance.”
Coach Shannon had his drawbacks, but he really worked to help secure donations for the school. Ed Reed has his name on some of the football offices. and the Schwartz family’s donation of $5M was directly related to their relationship with Randy. Maybe on some levels Shannon’s legacy at UM won’t be as bad as it is perceived.
I’m not sure there is a better reflection of the totality of the University of Miami than the legendary national champion and Super Bowl winner.
We know all about Vilma’s accomplishments on the field, both in college and in the NFL. We’ve also heard about his academic success at ‘The U’ and now we’re just starting to learn about his charitable efforts — not only with today’s gift to his alma mater, but with his Jonathan Vilma Foundation, which in conjunction with The Giving Back Fund, is helping to build a charter school in Haiti. Vilma has already raised $200,000 for the cause.
While all of the above is amazing, I’m not sure there was a better indicator of Vilma’s character than when he spent considerable time thanking his parents, who were in attendance. Also watching the proceedings were current Canes Jacory Harris and Sean Spence. Vilma is like an older brother to Spence. They’ve watched film together all summer, so let’s hope the expert tutelage pays off come fall.
I’m not sure any former player will top the $2M donation Dwayne Johnson and his then-wife gave back in 2006, but anytime one of these guys gives back, it’s a great day for UM. It all started back in 2000 when Edgerrin James donated $250,000. Combine that with what The Rock and Vilma have now given and that’s almost $3M from three Canes.
Let’s hope these generous gifts inspire other high profile Canes to give back and let’s also hope the character, dedication, loyalty and benevolence of Vilma rubs off on our current players. This is a guy who is a prove winner in every aspect of life and these current Canes should strive for the same.