Jonathan Vilma Accepts Play It Smart Leadership Role

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Jonathan Vilma Accepts Play It Smart Leadership Role

MORRISTOWN, N.J., July 6, 2006*– *The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF) announced Thursday that current New York Jets and former University of Miami linebacker Jonathan Vilma has agreed to join the NFF's Play It Smart National Advisory Board, which is chaired by legendary college and pro defensive back Ronnie Lott .

"Play It Smart is an impressive program with results that distinguish it as one of the best youth development programs in the country," said Vilma. "It's an honor to join NFF President Steve Hatchell and Ronnie Lott on the advisory board for Play It Smart and to lend my support to a program that provides young athletes the tools that will help them achieve their long-term goals on and off the field."

Launched in 1998 in four schools and currently in 136 high schools (listed at www.playitsmart.org) in 35 states with more than 12,000 participants, Play It Smart trains "academic" coaches to work with high school football teams in underserved areas during the entire school year, taking the transferable life skills learned on the field and applying them in the classroom and the community.

"Over the past nine years we have developed one of the most effective academic programs in the country for helping at-risk student-athletes," said NFF President Steve Hatchell. "We're thrilled to have Jonathan Vilma lend his support to the efforts spearheaded by Ronnie Lott on the program's national advisory board. Jonathan's achievements as a player and as a student at the University of Miami make him a powerful role model for the program's participants."

A 2002 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame from USC and a 2000 inductee into the Pro Hall of Fame, Ronnie Lott has served as the chairman of the Play It Smart National Advisory Board since April 2006. Comprised of leaders in the fields of education, business, community affairs and sports, the board provides oversight and support as the program seeks to secure ongoing financial backing while pursuing its plans for expansion. As a board member, Vilma will support Chairman Lott as the program continues to reach a growing pool of student-athletes from coast-to-coast.

With major financial support from the NFL and the NFL Players Association, corporations, communities and individuals, the program has achieved dramatic results, including:

  • 98% of participants graduating high school, compared to a national rate of 86%;
  • 80% of seniors enrolling in college compared to 64% of their peers;
  • Rosters increasing by 35% for teams with fewer than 40 players;
  • Participants completing more than 60,000 hours of community service annually for a team average of 468 hours;
  • 71 seniors earned spots on Division I-A rosters in 2006 as incoming freshman, bringing the total number of participants in the elite collegiate ranks to more than 150 student-athletes.

While at the University of Miami, Vilma established himself as one of the nation's top student-athletes by becoming a three-time Academic All-Big East Conference and two-time Butkus Award nominee (semifinalist in 2002 and finalist in 2003). His collegiate academic, athletic, and community accomplishments earned him a coveted NFF National Scholar Athlete Award and made him a finalist for the prestigious Draddy Trophy, presented by HealthSouth, in 2003.

On the field, Vilma was the unquestionable leader of the Hurricanes' defense. At middle linebacker, Vilma led the team in tackles in each of his last three seasons, and for his career he played in 47 games, starting 37 contests. He also helped the Hurricanes win the 2001 National Championship.

The New York Jets selected Vilma in the first round (#12 overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft. In his rookie year, Vilma recorded 105 tackles, two sacks, and three interceptions including one that was returned for his first NFL touchdown. Because of his spectacular season, the Associated Press named Vilma as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Last year, Vilma led the NFL in tackles with 173, and he was named to the 2006 Pro Bowl as a member of the AFC squad.

ABOUT The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame
With 120 chapters and 12,000 members nationwide, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame, a non-profit educational organization, runs programs designed to use the power of amateur football in developing scholarship, citizenship and athletic achievement in young people. The NFF presents the MacArthur Trophy, the Draddy Trophy, presented by HealthSouth, and releases the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Standings. NFF programs include the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., Play It Smart, the NFF Center for Youth Development Through Sport at Springfield College (Mass.), the NFL-NFF Coaching Academy, and scholarships of over $1 million for college and high school scholar-athletes. Learn more at www.footballfoundation.org.

ABOUT PLAY IT SMART
Established in 1998 by The National Football Foundation as an educational program, Play It Smart works to turn football teams from tough inner city environments into learning teams. Designed to take a student-athlete's passion and dedication to football, Play It Smart leverages the positive peer pressure of a team to make academic achievement the norm. At the heart of the program is a year-round academic coach, an official member of a team's staff, who serves as a direct link to the classroom by helping players and the team achieve their academic and personal development goals during the entire school year. With significant financial support from the NFL and NFL Players Association, Play It Smart currently reaches over 12,000 participants at 136 high schools in 85 cities and 35 states. www.PlayItSmart.org

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