TAMPA — Bucs rookie linebacker Lavonte David has been nicknamed "Lo-Lo" ever since training camp, when teammates say coach Greg Schiano inadvertently stuttered while saying his name in practice.
"He's like 'Lo-lo-lo,' " linebacker Dekoda Watson quipped of Schiano. "So Lo-Lo stuck."
But David, 22, has quickly made a name for himself with the Bucs, who have handed a lot of responsibility over to the second-round pick out of Nebraska. David, starting on the weak side, led the team with six tackles in a 16-10 win over the Panthers, impressing with his instinctive and aggressive play.
"I've been pleased — he's a really good football player," Schiano said. "He's a very mature guy, a good learner. And he has some really good traits, skills. We're fortunate to have him."
The Bucs also trusted David enough Sunday to give him the green-dot helmet transmitter through which coaches can talk to him, making him responsible for making defensive calls. David had done so in the offseason but never in a game, and defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan surprised David with the news Saturday. "I was like, 'Oh man,' " David said, smiling.
Schiano said there are a few players who could wear the transmitter during the season, depending on which linebacker remains on the field the entire game, but it was a vote of confidence to the rookie.
"It's not easy to do in college, to get all the reads and make all the calls, and that guy came in and did it in the NFL opening day, and wasn't shook at all," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "He never looked nervous. Now I see why we drafted him; he'll be around for a while."
David, soft-spoken and relatively small for a linebacker (6 feet 1, 233 pounds), is no stranger to producing in pressure-packed situations. He starred for nationally ranked Miami Northwestern High, played for a junior college national title at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College and became an All-American at Nebraska.
At Fort Scott, David played with two current Giants via USF, two-time Pro Bowl player Jason Pierre-Paul and linebacker Jacquain Williams, whom the Bucs face Sunday in New York. But David was the team's most consistent worker, former Fort Scott coach Jeff Sims said.
"Lavonte loves the game of football," said Sims, now an associate head coach at Florida Atlantic. "Lavonte David would play in a football game in front of 100,000 people, and he'd play it in somebody's back yard tomorrow."
David was the defensive most valuable player of the 2009 national championship game against Cam Newton-led Fort Blinn. David racked up 12 tackles, including sacking Newton on the game's final defensive play, before Fort Scott lost on a punt return for a touchdown.
"That was heartbreaking," David said.
David was usually on the punt team, but Sims had taken him off to keep him fresh while shadowing Newton.
"Lavonte outplayed Cam Newton the whole day," Sims said. "He deserved that national championship. If he had been on that punt team, he no doubt would have tackled that guy."
David, a Miami native, always dreamed of playing for his hometown Hurricanes. Sims said he begged then-coach Randy Shannon to give David a look but was told he was too small.
David, however, said he doesn't "look back at all" about landing at Nebraska, where he set a Husker-single season record with 152 tackles as a junior and followed with 133 as a senior, when he was named All-American and the Big Ten linebacker of the year.
During the draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper compared David to former Bucs great Derrick Brooks. Tampa Bay traded up 10 spots in the second round to get David, who Schiano said is not playing like a rookie.
"I'm just taking it all in — playing football again," David said. "I love it."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.