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Until last season, Lavonte David’s career scenario remained consistent: Year after year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers All-Pro linebacker would pile up huge statistics while the Bucs would frustratingly continue to keep losing.
In David’s first eight NFL seasons, the Bucs finished at the bottom of the NFC South six times. The team finished seven of those years with a sub-.500 record, shuffling five starting quarterbacks and four head coaches during that time.
Then 2020 came, and with the addition of Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bruce Arians entering his second season, David and the Bucs finally got a taste of victory. In 12 months, the Bucs went from 7-9 in 2019 to Super Bowl champions after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9, in Super Bowl LV.
While he’s added a Super Bowl ring, David maintains the same hard-nosed work ethic he’s exhibited throughout his career — by remembering those hard times he and the Bucs endured before last season.
“It’s the same grind, especially for me and what we’ve gone through here,” David says. “From never making the playoffs to now winning the Super Bowl, I can’t let up now. All that work I put in through the hard times, I know want to get as many Super Bowls as I can.”
He says the Bucs are now taking a Super Bowl repeat approach to 2021.
“The main thing is you gotta ignore the noise,” David says. “Ignore all those people who are now going to put those expectations on you, and just focus on your team’s success and your own expectations. I feel like we got a great group of guys who could, you know, kind of keep a level head and just stay focused on what we want to do. The Bucs are still an organization that a lot of people don’t believe in. So that’s a good thing. We’ll just keep on grinding.”
Now going into his 10th season, has quietly become one of the best linebackers in the NFL. David says he still gets some of his mental edge by not forgetting the skeptics who passed on him back in the 2012 draft. Many pro scouts had doubts that at 6’1”, 233-pounds, the two-time All-American and Butkus Award winner at the University of Nebraska possessed the “elite size” to make a significant impact as an elite NFL linebacker.
But just a year after slipping to the Bucs as the 58th overall pick in the second round, David earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2013 after recording seven sacks and five interceptions. David, who recently re-signed with the Bucs with a two-year extension worth about $25 million, was also named second-team All-Pro in both 2016 and 2020 and is consistently one of the league leaders in tackles.
Proving doubters wrong is just part of David’s motivational game plan that he shares in this week’s Winning Strategy. The seven-time team captain also talks about the role leadership plays in contributing to a team’s success, as well as the benefits of humor to help push a championship run.
Every year, I have to have a chip on my shoulder. I always have to prove that I’m one of the best linebackers in the league. Even with the numbers I’ve put up over the years, I still feel like I’m overlooked. It’s always going to be like that, so it is what it is. I’m just gonna keep on grinding and proving that I’m one of the best and hopefully by the end of my career, I could be talked about as one of the best linebackers to have played the game.
My rookie year, I got a chance to play with Ronde Barber. I was able to watch how he carried himself and how he did his thing off the field. The rest of my career, I had a guy like Gerald McCoy, who I felt was a great leader on and off the field for what he did with the people in his community. I admired the way he carried himself throughout the week on the football field.
When it came time for me to take on the role of leader, I just tried to take what I learned from those guys and use it in the way I do things. I’m not a rah-rah or loud type of leader. I’m quiet and laid back. I feel that kind of gives guys the comfort to come and talk to me if they have something going on. That’s what I’ve been: a mentor to a lot of young people. They come to me and ask for advice, not only on the field, but off as well. And I take pride in that. It’s helped me become a seven-time captain. So whatever I’ve been doing has been working out pretty well.
I prepare myself each week mentally and physically to be ready to play four quarters each Sunday. But losing sometimes creates frustration.
I remember there was one point in 2014 — and it only happened once ever — when we were losing. It became so frustrating it got to the point in which I didn’t care (the team finished 2-14). I just went through the entire motions throughout the week and didn’t care about the game. I didn’t study the way I used to and I didn’t take care of my body as much as I should have during the week. Game day came, and my lack of preparation showed. I had one of my most sluggish games ever. Afterward, I was like, I can’t ever put that type of effort into a game ever again. Fans and family will look at me differently.
It happened — I can’t change that — but I immediately changed that attitude. From that moment I said I’ll never put myself in that situation again.
I feel like football is more mental than physical. The mental part is what helps you overcome the physical. When you know what’s happening, what’s about to happen, and you know what you’re doing in that situation, it helps you from getting hurt or adding extra stress to your body.
For me, I usually wake up at six in the morning, eat breakfast, then get a little treatment and body work in. Sometimes, however, I’ll even go in at 5:45 a.m. and get my workout in before start my day.
Meetings start at eight o’clock, and then after that it’s off to offensive and defensive meetings — that’s where we go through the game plan, which probably lasts about an hour and a half. Then we break off to individual meetings — another hour and a half to two hours. Then it’s lunch before coming back and getting ready for practice, which can last from two to 2 1/2 hours.
After the last meeting is done, some people may go home or stay and go over things they may have missed. For me, I’ll go home and study some more on my iPad. I’ll go over extra stuff, like more of the game plan and study more film. So a player’s day goes from at least 6 a.m. till about 7 at night. That’s a football life.
In the locker room, Leonard (Fournette) would always joke and mess with everybody — and everybody got back at him as well, which made it all fun. It’s great to be a part of a locker room like that. We have an open locker room, where we can gossip, joke around, and just not take offense to certain things. But at the same time, we can be open and honest with each other. I feel like that type of locker room atmosphere and having that type of team camaraderie helps make the team go. It helped us become Super Bowl champions. I think it’s definitely something good to be a part of. It also helps when you’re winning— losing does make it a little more serious.