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Lavonte David is the star Tampa Bay has not always recognized

John Romano | He has been a tackling savant for eight years, but the Bucs’ constant losing has meant David has never gotten the credit he deserves here and elsewhere.
Since he entered the NFL in 2012, no one has made more solo tackles than Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Since he entered the NFL in 2012, no one has made more solo tackles than Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David. [MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Nov. 16, 2019

TAMPA — Fame would be nice. He’s not going to argue with that.

Who wouldn’t want to pal around with Howie and Terry on the Fox halftime show, or see a few more Pro Bowls on the back of their football card?

It’s just that his personality doesn’t demand it, and Tampa Bay’s win-loss record doesn’t invite it.

And so Lavonte David settles for attention in the one place that it means the most to him:

In the huddle every Sunday.

“It can be very frustrating when people bring up Pro Bowls or other accolades with me,’’ David said. “But for me? It doesn’t really matter much because the ultimate goal is winning. All that other stuff is cool, but I want to win games. That’s why I go out every week and play with a chip on my shoulder. If (others) recognize me, then they recognize me.

“The people who know me, they know my body of work.’’

For the record, that body of work has quietly and steadily grown to eye-popping levels. Unfortunately, it’s gone unnoticed in a lot of places, including his own backyard. That can happen for even a stellar player on a team that has won only 41 of its last 121 games. It also happens with a player who keeps his profile low in both words and deeds.

And consequently, eight years later, David still has only one Pro Bowl on his resume.

“The ultimate pro is the only way I can say it,’’ Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “He is the ultimate pro.’’

Consider this:

Since he entered the NFL in 2012, no one has made more solo tackles than David. No. One. The next-closest player is Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly (six Pro Bowls). And the only players with more tackles behind the line of scrimmage are J.J. Watt (five Pro Bowls) and Calais Campbell (four Pro Bowls).

Noticing a trend?

Also, David is tops in the NFL in defensive fumble recoveries the past eight years. And sixth in forced fumbles. He’s also one of only two players with at least 10 interceptions and 20 sacks during that time. And, by the way, he hasn’t been flagged for a penalty in nearly three years and has only six in his career.

He may not be the best at any one thing, but he’s better than most at just about everything.

In case you were wondering, this hasn’t happened by accident or good fortune. David is as close as you will find to a perfectionist in a game of mayhem. He is almost never out of position, and almost never misses a tackle. He has been through four head coaches and five defensive coordinators in his eight seasons in Tampa Bay, but has never failed to put in whatever work necessary to adapt to changing game plans.

He was miscast in Mike Smith’s defense in 2016-17, and is more at home playing inside linebacker for Todd Bowles this season, but you might never know the difference because David has never been one to complain about his duties at work.

“Every year in the summer before we start camp, I sit down and tell myself: You’re a rookie again,’’ David said. “You have to train, and you have to reset your mind. I get my body together and then when I come for meetings, I learn everything over again. It’s a conscious thing to set myself up to have a great year.

“Even stuff I already know I try to add to it so I can play the game even faster. As a rookie, you have to work hard and fight for a job. That’s the basis of this game, knowing every year you have to make another roster.’’

Still a couple of months shy of his 30th birthday and signed through the end of the 2020 season, David has been one of the rare constants on an ever-changing roster. When the Bucs traded up 10 spots to take him in the second round out of Nebraska in 2012, Ronde Barber was still on the roster. Eight years later, David and Demar Dotson are the only ones who remain.

He now takes his role as a leader seriously, even if he isn’t the loudest voice in the locker room. He was Tampa Bay’s nominee this week for the NFL’s Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award. Three years ago, he was named a BIG Champion by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and, on Monday, he will host his fourth Bowl for Kids’ Sake fundraiser for the organization’s Tampa Bay chapter.

For all his accomplishments and charity work, David remains a shadow around much of Tampa Bay. His private life is exceedingly private (he got married earlier this year, not that many people knew about it) which befits a player who has flown under the radar for so long in the NFL.

“It doesn’t seem like eight years, it really doesn’t,’’ David said. “It’s crazy how fast it’s gone by. I don’t feel like I’ve aged at all.’’

Despite how it feels, eight years is a long time to remain among the NFL’s linebacking elite.

One of these days, the rest of the world ought to notice.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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