Lavonte David (4) shares a 2011 Senior Day moment with Rex Burkhead.
Note: Huskers.com will announce its All-Time Blackshirt Team on Thanksgiving Day, using the fan voting process that identified "50 Blackshirts to Celebrate 50 Years" of the fabled black practice jerseys which were introduced in the Bob Devaney Era.
By Randy York
If you’re looking for the classic case that demonstrates how out of whack football recruiting services are, tell your friends, family and neighbors about The Lavonte David Story. In his two years as a Husker, Nebraska coaches and players describe David’s talents as freakish. In his second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, David’s NFL coaches, teammates, opponents and media members multiply the freakish factor. They see a First-Team All-American as Pro Bowl worthy. Talk about a high-speed train ride between two highly competitive stops. Actually, make that three because David also jumped aboard a bullet train to Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College after playing for national prep powerhouse Miami Northwestern in Florida.
Six years ago, USA Today rated Northwestern the No. 1 high school football team in the country, and that’s probably where the stars and stripes and honor badges became so discombobulated. Believe it or not, Lavonte David, a human tackling machine if there ever was one, was rated a 2-star recruiting prospect as a prep linebacker. That is not a typo. Retrospectively, David deserves major credit: 1) for leading an unbeaten Fort Scott team to the junior college national championship game before losing to Blinn (Texas), even though David was named Defensive MVP of that contest; 2) for making 152 school-record tackles as a junior on a Nebraska team that lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game, adding 133 more tackles as a Husker senior when he just might have been the best player in the Big Ten Conference; and 3) If you think 285 career tackles in only two years as a Husker (good for fourth place on Nebraska’s all-time career tackles chart), what about the havoc he’s wreaked despite playing for an NFL team that struggled mightily the first half of this season?
All-American in College and Promising All-Pro
The evidence, we believe, is all in, and by any way you measure production, a jury has only one verdict to deliver. Lavonte David may have been a 2-star prep recruit, but he was a 5-star player in the junior college ranks, a 5-star performer in the big boy collegiate ranks and a legitimate 4-star charger in the men-of-men ranks of professional football … a peak performer at every level. Forget the recruiting “experts” who couldn’t envision David’s explosive style before he received his high school diploma. You know how the system works. Once the “experts” start handing out stars, the process becomes almost duplicative because one “national” service doesn’t want to be on the outside looking in when letters of intent are signed and subscription services are mentioned.
Since NCAA college football and the NFL are the last two train stops for a career that requires shoulder pads and helmets, let’s get our arms around David’s accomplishments and milestones. At Nebraska, he was a First-Team All-American for six different groups, the most important of which is the American Football Coaches who know a great player when they see one. The coaches may be the most credible group voting on such matters. David was also the Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, the Nebraska Team MVP and the Nebraska Lifter of the Year. The last two honors are every bit as important as media acknowledgements because teammates are the ones who vote, and they know who’s working the hardest and getting things done the right way.
Husker Fans Love David’s Flair for the Dramatic
Nebraska fans love David’s flair for the dramatic and his ability to make key plays at crucial times. We all remember the fumble David caused and then recovered, triggering the biggest comeback in Nebraska football history – a 34-27 win over Ohio State two years ago. When an 11-point favorite is 21 down midway through the third quarter, the clock starts to look like the one on the church steeple before Doc and Marty can go Back to the Future. If you thought those two sensed some measure of doom, imagine what life would have been like exiting any part of Memorial Stadium with an 0-2 start in the Big Ten.
"A lot of teams would have folded it right there and said: ‘This isn’t our night.’ We just needed someone to make a play, and I thought Lavonte made that play," Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini said. It was a rainy night when several Husker heroes were waving at the crowd one great athlete after another … Jordan Burroughs, who would go on and win an Olympic gold and two world championships … Will Shields, the perpetual Pro Bowler, NFL Man of the Year and father of Shavon Shields, a real diamond in the rough for Nebraska basketball … Alex Gordon, who would become an American League All-Star, not to mention a three-time Gold Glove winner … and Neil Smith, another perennial All-Pro who played on two Super Bowl champions but is proudest of having pulled a Blackshirt over his head. The ever-present David is another Blackshirt legend. Even though he was only in Lincoln for two years, David put his stamp on greatness and in a fan vote on Huskers.com, he was voted one of the top eight Blackshirts of all-time. The team was selected to honor the 50th anniversary season for those who wore the fabled jerseys. One footnote to that night: David’s heroics inspired Rex Burkhead, who ran with courage for Jack Hoffman, who was facing major surgery and when the Huskers roared ahead of the Buckeyes at the finish line, everyone watching the national telecast knew why Burkhead ran with such conviction.
David Has a Relentless Pursuit for Perfection
For all practical matters, The Lavonte David Story has only just begun. Yes, he taught us how performance can trump frustration and how even a lost cause has a modicum of hope. A great tackler at football’s highest level, David inspires players around him. He’s a game-changer and a role model who can make so many remarkable stops that he can’t help but light the fire in others. A recent HuskerVision video showed Husker players who were succeeding in the NFL, and David’s introduction acknowledged the one bright spot the Bucs seem to have – a second-year outside linebacker who led Tampa Bay with 139 tackles as a rookie and remains the Bucs’ leading tackler with 99 in 11 games this season. That total includes 28 tackles (and 18 solos) in Tampa’s current three-game winning streak over Miami, Atlanta and Detroit. Yes, Lavonte David is a bona fide star who’s equipped with enough shining moments to be considered for the Pro Bowl, even though he’s never as good as he wants to be. He’s always fine-tuning his game, just like he did at Nebraska. Consider him a self-avowed film study addict who constantly uses his iPad as an improvement tool. Such scrutiny has helped him rank third in the NFL in tackles for loss and among the leaders in solo tackles. He has five sacks.
David firmly believes that his ritual of poring over film helps him anticipate instead of guess what’s going to happen – the same habit he used to become an All-American at Nebraska. He complements group film study sessions with his own team-issued iPad, and that triggers another point. Remember when Ndamukong Suh equipped Nebraska’s locker rooms with iPads? It was a trailblazing moment for Nebraska, which became the first college or pro football team to incorporate iPads into their daily lives. Leave it to David to be the one who continues to capitalize on whatever can make him better. Going from a 2-star to a 5-star is a relentless pursuit of perfection on football’s fastest track, and it’s going to be fun watching the Lavonte David Story continue to unfold.
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