By most accounts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David has been playing at a Pro Bowl level since at least his second season in the NFL. The reason he had failed to get official Pro Bowl recognition was no mystery: The outside linebacker spots in the all-star game were mostly taken by 3-4 edge rushers with gaudy sack totals and completely different game-day assignments.
Validation finally came for David just a week before the 2016 Pro Bowl was to be played, at the end of his fourth season, when he was named to the all-star team as a replacement for Super Bowl-bound linebacker DeMarcus Ware (a 3-4 edge rusher, naturally). Now David is in Hawaii, mingling with some of the best players in the NFL…and fitting right in.
David, never the particularly demonstrative type, hadn't complained about his obvious Pro Bowl slight, but he now admits that this first selection was very important to him.
"It's something I really wanted," said David after a Friday morning practice in a rapidly rising heat. "I felt I was worthy of it but the tables didn't turn that way because of the way the game is played. It was pretty hard for me at first, but now I finally got the opportunity to get in. Hopefully, I can just keep this thing rolling."
Despite his particular Pro Bowl roadblock as an outside linebacker, David was clearly respected among his peers, leading to his alternate status, and he's feeling the same respect now in Hawaii. The all-stars are all housed at the same resort hotel in the North Shore region of Oahu, with nobody other than friends and family allowed into the inner circle. There is, in fact, a familial feeling throughout the resort.
"It's great being around all these guys," said David. "Everyone's cool. You don't get a lot of chances to meet some of the opposing players in the NFL unless you get out here. Here, it's like a big family atmosphere, everybody's happy, everybody's enjoying this whole situation."
As much as he's enjoying the week, David hasn't quite let go of that feeling of being passed over the last couple years, and almost a third time in 2015. That's good news for Buccaneers fans – David is clearly motivated to take his game to a level where he won't have to wait for a last-minute call to Hawaii.
"Yeah I feel validated, but at the same time, I was an alternate," he said. "I want to be one of those guys that's automatically voted in from the get-go. I'm embracing this; it's a great moment, something I can put on my résumé. But hopefully in the years to come I can be one of the first guys voted in.
"The chip is always on the shoulder for me."