by Ian Massey
In the long and storied history of the fabled Nebraska football program, thousands of tackles have been made by defensive standouts ranging from All-Americans to future NFL stars. None, however, have made as many as Lavonte David did in 2010.
A junior college transfer who was lightly recruited out of high school, David registered 152 tackles, a total higher than any recorded by all those Cornhuskers who have helped build the reputation of the Blackshirts.
And, David has opened his 2011 senior season in a similar fashion, leading the team in tackles through the first games of the campaign.
Those tackle totals have helped land David on the Lott IMPACT Trophy Watch List for 2011, the prestigious award that goes to the outstanding defensive player in the country who has the biggest IMPACT on his team, both on and off the field.
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Nebraska's football program began in 1890 when the school nickname was the very inappropriate Bugeaters. The nickname has changed, the players and the coaches have changed and the records keep changing through the years. In a state covered by cornfields, eventually the nickname became Cornhuskers and by the early 1960s, the defense acquired the name Blackshirts, a singular honor bestowed on the rock-solid players on that side of the ball. A black practice jersey remains a source of pride for the starting defensive unit in Lincoln. The relentless defensive mentality that it signifies has been passed down through the generations.
Despite winning two straight state-titles at Miami Northwestern High School in 2006 and 2007, David didn’t have Miami, Florida State or Florida at his doorstep. The Florida native decided to attend Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, instead of playing for a school that did recruit him, Middle Tennessee State. At Fort Scott, the 6’1, 215 pound undersized linebacker became a two-time All-Jayhawk Conference selection and was a first-team All-American in 2009 after terrorizing junior college quarterbacks. He led Fort Scott in tackles in both seasons. As a sophomore, David and Fort Scott qualified for the Junior College National Championship, where David was named the game’s Defensive Most Valuable Player, despite narrowly losing to Blinn Junior College.
David joined the Cornhuskers in 2010 as a reserve. But when he showed his value at summer practice and the Nebraska linebacking corps became depleted by injuries, David got the nod in the first game of the season and has never let anyone take his position away since. Thrust into a leadership role, David made Nebraska’s defensive calls just weeks into his NU career.
In addition to his record-setting tackle total, David recorded six sacks and 15 tackles for loss as a junior. With exceptional speed and instincts, he became one of the nation’s leading tacklers, compiling 15 or more tackles in three different games. David was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. The accolades piled up for David in 2010, also becoming the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, a Rivals and CBS Sports first-team All-American, a unanimous selection for All-Big 12 and the Cornhuskers’ Defensive MVP.
“[Lavonte] brings a blow for not being the biggest linebacker in the world,” Nebraska tailback Rex Burkhead said. “He’s very intelligent; he’s a smart kid.”
Preparing for various aerial attacks in the Big 12 allowed David to play as the only linebacker on the field for the Cornhuskers in 2010, but with the team’s transition to the Big Ten, David put on ten pounds in preparation for the power running games of the new conference. He now shares the field with other linebackers as the Huskers see less spread offenses and more pounding running attacks.
Nebraska has started 4-0 in 2011. David has contributed 40 tackles, including a season-high 15 against Fresno State on Sept. 10. At Lincoln Memorial Stadium on Sept. 17, David made his first career interception in the 51-38 victory against Washington. His tackles continue to pile up as do his compliments.
First year linebackers coach Ross Els says it’s a privilege to coach David.
“He has the innate ability to get where he’s supposed to go and take care of his responsibilities first, and then after that get to the ball,” Els said.
Els acknowledged the defensive scheme overhaul has been difficult for the Cornhuskers to adjust to, but is impressed with the progress David has made.
“He [had] 15 tackles [against Fresno] and didn’t even play very well,” Els said, astonished.
The criminology and criminal justice major has been just as impressive off the field. A member of the Husker Heroes program, David volunteers his time with special needs children and at local hospitals.
Within 24 hours of recording ten tackles, two sacks and a pass deflection in the Huskers’ 20-3 victory over Kansas last Nov. 16, David was at the first-ever Husker Heroes Outreach Event at NU’s Hawks Athletic Indoor Championship Center. David signed posters, shirts, footballs and even a fishing pole for individuals with disabilities.
Nebraska’s associate athletic director for life skills, Keith Zimmer, was impressed with David and his teammates’ generosity.
“When you see student-athletes and individuals with special needs interact, you realize how much lives can be touched,” Zimmer said. “It’s amazing what leadership, caring and the practical application of volunteerism can produce.”
Overwhelmed by the impact of the evening, David said, “This is so much fun, making everybody happy. Everybody I met tonight came up with a big smile. There’s nothing like a great smile. It gives you chills when you make people smile. There’s nothing more rewarding than that.”
Alongside fellow Blackshirt Jared Crick on the 2011 Lott IMPACT Trophy Watch List, David embodies the qualities associated with the acronym that stands for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.