(For each home game in 2014, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have identified a "featured player" to spotlight on game day and introduce more fully to the team's fans. This player will appear on game tickets, souvenir cups at Raymond James Stadium and other materials. The Buccaneers' featured player for Sunday's season opener against the Carolina Panthers is All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David.)
Lavonte David, quiet superstar, is not long for the NFL scene.
David, a first-team Associated Press All-Pro in just his second pro season, isn't going away. His criminally low profile, however, is almost certain to disappear, and soon. David may not be looking for the spotlight, but when you make a habit of being wherever the football is, it's hard to avoid.
"Hopefully those things will come soon," said David, though if that's really a goal of his he doesn't sound particularly convincing. "It's starting a little bit now, so hopefully people can get to know me a little bit more. I've just got to be consistent with my level of play and maybe it will come along. I'm just going to do what I do best – go out there on Sundays, have fun with my teammates and try to win games, especially."
The Buccaneers have plenty of stars and potential stars on the roster, especially after the offseason overhaul administered by Lovie Smith and Jason Licht. Vincent Jackson produces at a Pro Bowl level every year. Doug Martin inspires nicknames left and right and is back from an injury to chase 2,000 yards again. New Bucs Logan Mankins and Alterraun Verner rubbed shoulders in Hawaii last year. Free agent prizes Anthony Collins, the left tackle, and Michael Johnson, the pass-rushing end, are considered rising stars at two of the most important positions on the field.
But there's a reason why Lavonte David's image graces the game tickets for the Buccaneers' 2014 season opener, while Gerald McCoy posed for the season finale tickets. Those two are the foundation upon which the Bucs' roster is built, and it only makes sense for them to bookend the season as the team's featured players. No one on the Bucs' roster has a higher potential ceiling than McCoy, except for maybe David, and vice versa.
McCoy, of course, has the sort of infectious personality that expands to fit whatever room he's in, so there's little chance of him going unheralded or unappreciated. That's a good thing. David is, as he likes to call it, "chill," in much the same way his father was. That's perfectly fine, too, but it has helped to keep his rising stardom more local. There's a reason, after all, that sportswriters picked both players to last year's All-Pro team – and Pro Football Focus had them tied as second runners-up for their Defensive Player of the Year award – but McCoy went to the Pro Bowl without David.
Not that any of this bothers David, who is pretty much all about football, all the time. He repeatedly describes himself as "boring" off the field, and it's not because he's trying to hide his private life. He'll happily tell you about his girlfriend, or his parents who have been happily married for 30 years or his siblings who support him at every turn.
David's not going to go out and hire a publicist to put him on billboards. He's not going to pull a WWE move and convert to a heel, standing over fallen opponents and taunting him. He's just going to keep playing football at a very high level, and while it may take a bit longer, that will be enough to gain him recognition among the game's elite.
"It's kind of a good thing, don't you think?" said David of his delayed recognition. "That's just the type of person I'm in. I'm a football player. I just go out there, play football and have fun.
"I don't like to draw attention to myself. I'm a real laid-back guy, that's just my personality. I'm just like my dad. My dad is real laid-back, real chill, always happy, always has a smile on his face. You would never know if he's had an up or down day. I try to do the same thing."
All-Pro linebacker, Lavonte David, is the featured player for Sunday's season opener vs. the Panthers.
David's teammates know how important he is to the team. They voted him a team captain on defense for the first time this year (along with McCoy, of course). Though it hasn't really gotten out of the locker room, his fellow Bucs have given him a pretty cool nickname. If you happened to catch David's ridiculous performance in the first half of last October's game in Carolina, when he seemed to be tackling a Falcon ballcarrier in the backfield on every single play, you'll understand that nickname: "Flash."
As his teammates also know, David is no recluse. He's apparently more of a cut-up around the team facility than most people realize, though he starts putting aside the jokes when the next game is about 48 hours away. He wants recognition just as much as any other player on the team.
"Any defensive player, they want to be known as the best at their position, and maybe even the best defensive player in the NFL," said David, who along with McCoy has appeared on plenty of short lists for that latter honor in 2014. "That's why I just go out there on Sunday and play my hardest to be considered one of the hardest-working and hardest-playing football players out there."
On Sunday, David will share the field with the man who currently owns the hardware David would like to put on his mantle, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. Kuechly won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2012 before last year's Defensive Player of the Year accolades, and he definitely earned both awards. He's not considered much of a self-promoter, either, but he doesn't really need to be after becoming the first player since Lawrence Taylor to take home both of those trophies in his first two seasons. That will certainly get your name mentioned in the same breath as Patrick Willis and Terrell Suggs and Justin Houston.
David and Kuechly came into the league together in the 2012 draft. Both have seen their careers rise meteorically in just two years. They will likely be doing battle in the NFC South for years. Perhaps they'll be battling for postseason awards and sharing plane flights to the Pro Bowl for years, too.
"You can't take anything away from Luke," said David. "He's a great football player, since college. I've been watching him since college. When he's out there, he's competing. He's working hard, he wants his team to win, and I think we have that same kind of competitive nature. Any time we're out there on the field, we're going after the opponent and trying to help our team get better."
If David is to gain the sort of well-deserved recognition that his division-mate already enjoys, it might be because his team regains a measure of relevance, as the Panthers did last year by going 12-4, winning the division and boasting perhaps the best defensive front seven in the league. David could help his team take a big step in that direction by taking down those division champs. Carolina won both matchups last year, pretty handily at that, and that left a bitter taste in the Bucs' mouths.
"The battle against Carolina, just like any other team in this division, we take to heart," said David. "Those two times they basically stomped us and we kind of felt broke about that. But it's a whole new year, a whole new regime and hopefully it will be different outcomes. We're 0-0, and hopefully after Sunday we'll be 1-0."
And hopefully more attention will follow for David, the quiet superstar who will soon simply be a superstar. That's a process that will take care of itself as long as the third-year linebacker continues to play as he has the last two seasons. In the meantime, David isn't going to spend much time worrying about it.
"My parents brought me up to just appreciate life," he said. That's what I try to do."