Interview: Shawna Wiggs | Writer: McKenna Kelley
Photographer: Gabriel Burgos | Art Director: Scott Tennant
Originally published in South Tampa Magazine’s August/September 2016 edition.
Being selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2012 NFL draft after a record-setting career at the University of Nebraska marked a sort of homecoming for linebacker Lavonte David. Playing football not far from his native Miami gave him the chance to be the role model he never had to kids right in his home state.
“Going to the Midwest and then coming back down to the South that I’m used to, it was a blessing,” David says.
South Tampa Magazine sat down with the Pro Bowler to talk about everything from football to food to giving back.
What have you learned in the NFL since being drafted in 2012?
What I’ve learned is being patient. Coming in, not trying to force the issue, knowing that it’s a long season and playmaking takes time. Also, I learned you’re playing against great competition every week. No matter the team’s record, week in and week out we have a great opponent, so you always have to be prepared.
You just signed a five-year contract extension in 2015. What are you most excited for in the coming seasons?
The past four years I’ve been here, things mostly haven’t been good for us as a football program. Hopefully this year we can make a big step ahead with the changes that we’ve made and the additions that we have. Hopefully we can make a big leap forward into the playoffs.
What was it like going into your first Pro Bowl last year?
It was amazing. It was a great experience. Going to Hawaii for the first time, I also had a lot of my family come along. It was a great experience not only for me, but for them also. Being out there for a whole week and also being around all that talent, being around that great group of guys and having some of my teammates there as well — it was pretty fun. I felt very comfortable being there.
Do you have a favorite football memory, milestone or experience in high school or college?
I remember it like it was yesterday. My senior year of high school, we were the No. 1 team in the country. We were undefeated, and it was the game before the state championship. We were losing. The defense made a great stop on the 1-yard line. If we hadn’t, the game would have been over; the other team probably would have won. We made a great stop. I get to the sideline, look back, and you see all our fans standing up. I look back, and people were crying. They started making me cry. It was a big deal and a big game. The very first play, our offense threw a screen pass — a receiving screen. The ball kind of skipped, so we didn’t know if it was a fumble. The other team ended up recovering it, and they called it an incomplete pass. Thank God for that. Then our offense ended up driving 99 yards to win the game on a touchdown, and we ended up going to state.
Do you have a favorite Buccaneer from the past?
I have to go with Derrick Brooks. He’s a legend. The way he carried himself on and off the field, how much respect he has within the organization even after he played, and also in the community after he was done, shows a lot about a man. When I see that, I kind of want to follow in those footsteps. His play on the field speaks for itself. He was a playmaker. I remember on Madden every year, he was a 99 [the video game’s highest ranking for a player]. He was one of the guys I tried to trade to get every time.
You were honored as national ambassador for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America this summer. What did that mean to you, and why is being a good role model and mentor so important to you?
It meant a lot to be honored for being a role model to young kids growing up. The whole ceremony, the whole event, was amazing. It was a great experience seeing that all these people care about the youth. It’s so important to me because, growing up, I wasn’t really able to have that person who was in the same shoes that I was to be a good example for kids. Now that I’m able to do something like that, I have to take full advantage of it and make sure the kids take full advantage of it. Guys like us, especially athletes, we’ve been in their shoes. We know how it is growing up. When you have a guy like a professional athlete come back to your community and put positivity into your life, it may be a life-changer.
Our theme this issue is football and tailgating. I know you’re usually on the field so you don’t really get to do much tailgating, but do you have any memories or stories from tailgating?
LD: In Nebraska they’re big on tailgating, so whenever I go back for spring games, I always attend tailgates. I like playing cornhole — I’m very good.
What’s your favorite tailgating food?
Bratwursts. Oh my God, amazing. I love brats. I probably have like five brats in a row. Brats with the barbecue sauce on them — I don’t need any ketchup or mustard, just the brats.
What can fans expect from the Bucs this coming season?
Oh man, fans can expect great things. Whatever expectations there are for us, we’re going to do our best to try and reach them. I know fans expect us to reach them. They’ve got high hopes for us. I feel like we’re going to prevail this season. We’ve got a great football team together and a great coaching staff put together. The team’s looking good so far. Every day we’re improving. Every day we’re getting better and better, and that’s a positive thing. It should be a fun year. I’m really looking forward to it.
Lavonte David is one of the many Bucs players involved with the Buccaneers Academies. Through this program, players regularly visit 24 designated Tampa Bay schools to teach students about the importance of physical activity, reading and higher education. Each of the schools is given a Bucs-themed shade cover to create a shaded outside play area, and graduating fifth grade students are given a “ticket” redeemable for a job interview with the Buccaneers after finishing a college degree.