Lavonte David won two state championships with a perennial powerhouse while playing high school football. He earned All-America accolades at the University of Nebraska while helping the Cornhuskers win 19 games in two years. In just his second NFL season, David was named to the Associated Press All-Pro first team, an honor more exclusive than the Pro Bowl.
However, it may be the two years that David spent at Fort Scott Community College, in a small Kansas town of the same name, that were most responsible for getting him to where he was on Monday, seated at a table between Jason Licht and Lovie Smith. David was there to discuss the new contract that would make him the highest-paid 4-3 outside linebacker in the league and keep him in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform into the next decade.
David didn't qualify to go to a four-year university coming out of Northwestern High School in Miami, and he was reluctant to go the juco route until his mom urged him to try it.
"She thought it would be a great thing for me to get away from home," he said. "And I thought it was the best move I ever made, going to a rural area in Fort Scott, Kansas, where I … didn't know a soul out there. It was real humbling. I think that whole process helped me become the guy I am today, because in high school we were winning a lot and I felt like everything was handed to me. Having to go to junior college, I realized that you have to work for everything that you earn."
The Lavonte David the Buccaneers coveted in the 2012 NFL Draft had clearly learned that lesson, and the Lavonte David they've had in their locker room for the last three years has been a shining paragon of dedication and hard work. It certainly wasn't a difficult decision to make, but the Buccaneers have known for some time that they wanted to build their defense long-term around David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a player with a matching work ethic. McCoy was re-upped through 2021 last October, David through 2020 on Monday.
The best photos of Lavonte David during the 2014 season shot by the Buccaneers' team photographers.
"There's several reasons why we're excited about extending Lavonte, but first and foremost, he's a phenomenal player, elite WILL linebacker – elite linebacker – but he's a professional," said Licht, the Buccaneers' General Manager. "One of the most professional players I've been around. He and Gerald McCoy epitomize what professionalism is in the NFL."
David was pulled out of a meeting in order to finish up his contract work on Sunday, and Licht said he wanted to get back to that meeting rather than stick around for some additional photo opportunities. Less than 30 seconds into his opening remarks on Monday, David was talking about getting ready for the next day's practice. He now has the means to buy his mother a new house and get his dad the toolshed he wants, but David is not about to get complacent after getting paid.
"All it does is add a bigger motivation," he said of the new contract. "I never let stuff like that take away the love that I have for the game. When you get rewarded for doing something that you love, all it does is add a bigger factor to the way you play the game now. All I can do is just keep going out there, keep proving everybody wrong, keep showing everybody – keep showing the organization – that I'm the player that they drafted a couple of years ago. It's humbling, but all it does is just drive me to keep doing what I do."
David talked on Monday about the need for the Buccaneers to become a winning team again in order for his legacy in the organization to be truly solidified, and the thinks the pieces are in place to make that happen. The Buccaneers will gauge their success by wins and losses, too, but they tied their hopes specifically to David (and McCoy before him) because they believe he can become an even greater player. In 2013, David had six sacks and five interceptions to go with his always robust tackle totals, becoming just the fifth NFL player and the first linebacker to pull off that feat since sacks became an official stat in 1982. As rare as that accomplishment would seem to be, Smith thinks David can approach those numbers every year.
"It's the '55 Club' – five interceptions, five sacks every year for a great linebacker," said Smith. "Lavonte – we will keep raising that standard for him. You see his ability on the football field. He's as smart of a football player as you'll be around. He's been in this system a little over a year and he's almost like a coach already, knowing exactly what we should call in every situation. The sky really is the limit for him.
"It's early in the game, but what we're looking for, Lavonte can do it all. We want a linebacker that can blitz when we want to blitz, he can blitz as well as anyone. No better coverage linebacker than Lavonte and his tackle total has been pretty steady throughout. But, yeah, we're challenging Lavonte to make more impact plays."
Bring on the challenges, says David.
"Obviously, [it's about] just being more of a playmaker that I know I can be," he said. "Making positive impacts on the field, whether it's causing more turnovers, getting our offense back the football as much as I can. Being a better leader, being a better vocal leader. Making sure guys are doing what they're supposed to do when they're supposed to do it. Scoring, I need a couple touchdowns this year, too. Coach made an emphasis on that already and they're getting on me real hard about that. I'm not going to tell y'all what's been happening in practice, but they've been getting on me real hard about that.
"Now it's up to me to get out there and just perform at my highest level week-in and week-out and just try to keep making this organization very happy and just keep doing what I'm supposed to do on the football field."