TAMPA — Although there hasn't always been a consensus among his coaches, Bucs rookie Lavonte David believes he was born to be a linebacker.
He believed that even when he was a 65-pound peewee player riding the bench in Miami's talent-rich inner city. He knew it when he watched one of his heroes, Bucs great Derrick Brooks, return an interception for a touchdown during Super Bowl XXXVII three days after his 13th birthday.
And David remained certain it was his destiny even when a high school coach suggested he was better suited to play safety.
"I've played linebacker my whole life," David said. "And I started playing football when I was 6 years old."
That refusal to see himself as anything else has helped bring David to this point, where he is seen as the Bucs' likely starter this upcoming season on the weakside, the position Brooks played for 14 seasons.
Friday marked the first time this year's second-round pick donned a Bucs jersey and helmet as the team conducted the first day of a three-day rookie minicamp at One Buc Place.
And just like he has for years, David came prepared to answer questions about his ability to play the only position he has loved. Listed at 6 feet 1, 233 pounds (He was listed at 225 at Nebraska.) but considered undersized, David knew he would have to confront doubts again.
"On the size, I don't care what anybody says," David, 22, said.
"I've been doubted about my size my whole life. But playing in two different conferences (Big 12 and Big Ten at Nebraska), I (played against) better competition and prevailed in both and made All-American. I was doubted coming into the draft because of my size, but hopefully I can just improve on what I did in college."
The college resume convinced the Bucs to trade up 10 spots to draft David. He was a tackling machine for the Cornhuskers after transferring from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College, registering 285 over two seasons.
"Just really a very productive linebacker," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said Friday. "At Nebraska, he played a position similar to what we think he can play here. He's a run-and-hit guy who has great instincts, locates the football and is good in pass coverage as well."
That's basically the job description of a weakside linebacker, a position at which the Bucs have a vacancy after Geno Hayes signed with the Bears this offseason.
David can't replace Brooks, an 11-time Pro Bowl pick. But the Bucs would settle for him becoming the sideline-to-sideline playmaker they believe he can be.
David seems aware of the opportunity before him, but his humility won't allow him to make any assumptions.
"You have to earn everything you get," he said. "That's how I was brought up ever since I was playing little league football. My parents put that mentality in my head. I had respect for those guys at Nebraska, and I'll have the same respect for these guys here.
"I knew (the Bucs) needed some help (at linebacker). But you can't take anything for granted. I'm going to try my best and continue working and when it's time to play, be ready, whether it's on special teams or whatever."
Whether he plays special teams remains to be seen, but David will play linebacker.
The last coach who doubted his ability to play linebacker — at Miami Northwestern High — was swiftly proved wrong. David went on to star for the state and national champion Bulls.
"I came in with intentions of playing linebacker," David said. "(My coach) saw me and tried to move me to safety. But the linebackers coach wouldn't let me. So I stayed at linebacker."
Right where he belongs.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.