The Buccaneers linebacker builds his perfect pub sub, takes me down memory lane during his time at Nebraska and pulls back the curtain on the Bucs' defensive dynamic. This is Behind the Buccaneers with Lavonte David.
Carmen Vitali: As a Florida boy, you've had 28 years to perfect this so no pressure but… what do you put on your Pub sub?
Lavonte David: "Turkey, ham, Boar's Head for both. Yellow, American cheese. Honey mustard, banana peppers, lettuce, warm, mayo, salt and pepper, oil and vinegar. Get it every time."
Almost like a Cuban, how Florida of you.
"I switched it up from regular mustard to honey mustard." [Laughs]
Florida boy all your life but I hear you're a pretty big basketball fan and have a surprising college team you root for.
"I do. Duke Blue Devils, baby! Ride or die. Ok, here's the story: I was growing up, I was about five or six years old and didn't know anything about basketball. I had my older brother who's a big Duke fan. So, my big brother likes Duke, I'm going to like Duke. Then it just grew on me. I didn't even know how good they were back then. One of the first Duke games I watched if I can remember was with Shane Battier, I don't think I saw the Grant Hill times. But when I really started to understand it, Jason Williams was playing. He was so good so that just did it for me. That was it. Ever since then."
But football is what you really ended up taking to, obviously. You weren't very heavily recruited coming out of high school and started your collegiate football career at Fort Scott Community College.
"I was at Fort Scott because of my grades situation. I got my first offer my junior year from the University of Central Florida and I got my second from South Florida and then I started getting looked at by different schools. Probably about middle of my senior year, they took a look at my grades and were like 'he might not qualify' so everybody backed off. The only team that stuck with me was Middle Tennessee State but I didn't want to go there, so I went to Fort Scott instead."
Where you were teammates with Jason Pierre-Paul…
"Jason was a great football player, he was a cool dude. Funny guy. Great dude to be around. We've kept in contact since then. I got him tickets to our game against [the New York Giants] last year. As soon as he got traded I hit him up. He was real excited, man. It's someone I'm really, really familiar with and I know where they came from. I've seen it firsthand, when they didn't really have nothing so I know what he's capable of."
You’re held accountable. It had me grow up real fast. I think it built my mental toughness to what it is right now. -Lavonte David on his junior college experience
And because of this JuCo route you both took, do you think there's kind of a lesson in there for guys that are in high school now and looking to play in college. Do you use that as a 'don't do what I did' type thing?
"For the most part, yeah. JuCo is not a bad game to be in though, not a bad route to go. Thing is, it worked out for me. If you go in with the right mindset – you have to grow up real fast. Take care of your responsibilities. When you're at junior college, you don't have the same privileges as regular college. You really have to do everything on your own. Most people aren't on scholarship, you're not babied in junior college. You're held accountable. It had me grow up real fast. I think it built my mental toughness to what it is right now. Everything I go through now as far as tough times, tough situations, I always go back to JuCo because it was hard. I was in a town that could probably fit in our indoor facility."
I'm going to be honest, you're the only reason I've heard of Fort Scott…
"Exactly. It's in a rural area of Kansas. Have you ever heard of Pittsburgh, Kansas? See? It's over there. They have a Division II college football team but the only thing in town was a Walmart. We had a taco bell. One hotel. Farms everywhere. The airport is about three hours away. You have to fly into Kansas City. My family never came to a game when I was there until my very last game when we played in the national championship. The coaches flew them in. When I first got there, I used to complain a lot to my mom. So when she came she said she could see why I was always complaining. I was like, 'Yeah! You think I'm lying?' [laughing] You know how kids complain to their parents and they say it's not that bad. But when she came she really felt like, 'Oh my God, I'm sorry, I understand now.'"
But then you went to Nebraska. A lot of changes to that program, they have their new coach now.
"It's incredible. There were 86,000 people there for the spring game. I felt like I was back at a real college game walking in there. I swear. The capacity is 90,000. Get this: people had to buy the tickets, too. They sold 86,000 tickets to the spring game. It was ridiculous. I think Coach Frost had a lot to do with that. When you're at Nebraska, you have to have some Nebraska ties. The former staff didn't really know anything about Nebraska tradition. Lincoln is probably like a bigger Fort Scott. It's a huge college town, though. It's way better now. The Haymarket was there when I was there but it's bigger now. It was ridiculous. They have a big old area about half the size of a football field and there's a big screen, huge, there's a bunch of bars around and everybody gathers and they show the game on the screen. It's real nice. Nice hotels and condos down there. Then probably a 10-minute walk is downtown. So Haymarket is one way, downtown is the other. Strip full of bars. I went out there. I felt old. I really did. Looking at all the kids. I call 'em kids. Looking at them like I remember those days. I actually went in a bar, this place called The Rail, which is one of the biggest bars downtown, and I looked around like what am I doing here? The thing is when I was in school, I used to go in for about five minutes, then go back out and sit there and laugh with my friends and watch all the drunk people. I'm a people watcher. Big time people watcher because I didn't drink while I was in college. It was good to go back, though. Scott Frost is a great dude, I rolled with him to the spring game. We were at the same hotel so he gave me a ride. He's so laid back. Chill guy, always laughing. I asked him how it was being back. In the time between the elevator and the car, about 10-15 people stopped him to try to talk to him. I asked him if it's like that now everywhere he goes since he's been back and he said yeah. It's a blessing and a curse. It's good when you're talking to kids but when the adults come, they can ask some silly questions sometimes. The spring game started at 11 a.m. and one guy asked him, 'don't you have a spring game?' Stuff like that. But it was real cool, though. They got a lot of great coaches back. Barrett Ruud, he played here. He's the linebackers coach. He's the one that really influenced me to grow up when I got drafted here. He reached out to me because he knew everything about the city. We've kept in contact since."
Do you go back to Nebraska often?
"Not a lot. But the times I do go back it's for the Team Jack Gala. Have you heard of the Team Jack Foundation? It's supporting kids with pediatric brain cancer. Rex Burkhead, he's over it and they have a big gala every year. I go back for that. But I hadn't been back for football stuff until this past spring game."
[The Team Jack Foundation was started by the friends and family of Jack Hoffman, who was introduced to Nebraska football player Rex Burkhead. As a seven-year-old undergoing treatment for brain cancer, Jack infamously went into a Nebraska spring game in 2013 during the fourth quarter and ran 69 yards for a touchdown. Since then, the Team Jack Foundation has garnered national attention and aims to 'raise money to fund impactful pediatric brain cancer research and work to create national awareness for the disease.']
Would Barrett be the one that you point to that helped you transition once you got into the NFL?
"Yeah, him and DB [Derrick Brooks]. DB was more from the football standpoint of how to handle everything. Barrett was more like being around town and life. I had lunch with Derrick my rookie year for the first time. We sat down for about 45 minutes to an hour just chattin' it up. It's been cool ever since. Every time he comes around, we talk. We text. He'll text me things to sleep on, thoughts, bible scriptures, things like that. We've been real cool ever since. I played a year with Ronde [Barber] too, so that was amazing. I played with him one year, got to play with a legend."
Seems like you're in a pretty good situation currently, too.
"Yeah, me and Gerald [McCoy] have been close since I got here. Me and Kwon too, even though he gets on my nerves sometimes."
Do you kind of see him like a little brother? Is that how that works?
"I do. I really do. Especially when he's always reaching out to me for advice and stuff. About everything. About living, financial stuff, not just about football. It's real cool. We kind of grew into that aspect so it's cool to have. I'm the youngest in my family so now I get to be the older brother. So far, so good. Sometimes I gotta tell him to slow down, but he'll be all right."
Well you guys kind of went through some tough times, at the same time, together. He lost his brother, you lost your mom not too long after.
"He was one of the first ones who reached out to me when he had found out it happened. When I found out his brother passed away, I kind of consoled him a lot in the locker room. Tough situations, man. Nobody wants to go through that, it's tough. That's his younger brother and it was my mom. Crazy situations. We kind of felt where each other was coming from. Him more so than me because my mom was still alive when his brother passed away. When my mom passed away, he reached out to me. But it's all good. It's good to have that. Someone who's not just your teammate, who starts to be your friend."
It’s good to have that. Someone who’s not just your teammate, who starts to be your friend. - Lavonte David on LB Kwon Alexander
It seems like your entire unit is pretty close.
"Oh yeah. It feels like college. The whole defense is real tight. Everybody hangs out with each other. There's no bad blood between anybody but it's a good thing, though. It transfers to the football field. Say I know you're not doing something right. I can tell you about it and you won't get insulted by it. It comes from love, it's constructive criticism. That's a good thing. That's the main thing we wanted to harp on this year because last year we had situations where people weren't doing what they were supposed to do and we weren't really getting on them about it. We would tell them but we weren't getting them like we should. This year, we are all close enough. We're all trying to go to the same place. I'm not going to tell you anything that's going to mess you up. Kwon reached out to me saying I need you to get on me more, let me know if I'm doing something that I can do better, just let me know. I said I need you to do the same thing for me. I'm the oldest guy in the linebacker room. I'm still young I feel like though so it's kind of awkward. I'm still trying to grow into that role, being the older guy. I'm trying to fit into that role more this year. Should be fun, though."