TAMPA — During his final year of high school, Lavonte David's mom gave him cash for fees to attend the senior prom. But by the time she got home from working as a unit manager in a nursing rehab center, he would hand the money back to her.
"In his senior year, most young kids would love to go to the prom with all the senior activities," said Lynette David. "Every time it was time for him to pay his fee, when I got home from work that evening, he gave it back and said, "Oh, mom. I changed my mind.' I didn't get to get prom pictures.
"Maybe he felt like 'it's not right me spending that kind of money.' I don't know. He would always bring the money back at the end of the day."
On Monday, during the Bucs' news conference to announce the All-Pro linebacker's five-year, $50.25 million contract extension through 2020, David surprised his mom by revealing plans to buy her a new home. Then he stepped off the podium and gave her a bear hug that lasted nearly a minute.
"He told me he loved me," Lynette David said, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"He did it. He worked so hard to be here and he did it. … For me, no more worry. I can leave here in peace. I don't have to worry about him at all because he's a good young man. He's going to do the right thing."
But David — "One of the most professional players I've ever been around," Bucs general manager Jason Licht said — is just getting started.
David was pulled out of a meeting Monday to sign his deal. "Lavonte came up, accepted the deal," Licht said. "We did our bro hugs and all that stuff. We asked him if he could stay for a few minutes and take a couple pictures. He said, 'Well, you know I really need to get back down to meetings.' "
David said the new contract will let him continue educational initiatives in his hometown of Miami. He recounted how low tests scores prevented him from accepting offers from Division I schools. Rather than sit out a semester, Lynette insisted he accept an offer from Fort Scott Community College in Kansas.
"His grades weren't enough to take him to a D-I and they wanted him to sit out to retake the test," Lynette said. "No. That's too much free time for anything to happen. And I told him my responsibility was to him not the football team."
A second-round pick from Nebraska in 2012, David has started all but two games in his three seasons with the Bucs, totaling 430 tackles, 10 sacks and six interceptions.
But after watching his outside linebacker fail to record an interception last season, coach Lovie Smith has raised the expectations, saying David should have five interceptions and five sacks every season. "I think (David) is everything you're looking for in a great linebacker," Smith said. "Of course, the standard is high here."
Football all the time
From the time he was 7, his family said, all David wanted to do was play or watch football. Not much has changed.
"All he did was watch football," Lynette said. "If he went outside to play, he didn't stay long. Maybe 15 or 20 minutes and he was back in front of the TV watching football again. It was football, football, football."
When he visits his parents in Miami, the television in his room is always tuned to ESPN or the NFL Network, his mother said. The youngest of four children, much of his care-taking fell to his sister, Shanterra Nelson.
"I felt a girl would be the most responsible," Lynette said. "They were good kids and they were older. They would tell him what to avoid. When I came home if everything wasn't right, heads were going to be rocking."
Lynette then whispered, "His dad. I won't tell him but he gets most of the credit." Lavonte's dad, Edward Nelson, smiled. David has promised to buy him a new tool shed. "We have five grandchildren. The bikes, the toy cars, maybe now they can all get off my front porch," Lynette said.
High school dates
David has been with his high school sweetheart, Tondrea Haddly, since they met at Miami Northwestern when she was a sophomore and he was a junior. At first, she rejected his attempts to date her.
"He asked me out like a couple of times," Haddly said. "I didn't say anything, he tried to pull my arm in the hallway and walked off. The second time I was like, 'We can be friends and we'll see.' "
On their first date, David took her out to eat. "It was a sports bar," Tondrea said. Of course. "He's not all football," she added. "He's just a really nice guy, he's very respectful. And if you find a guy who treats you like a queen, you need to go with that one."
With the contract signed, David said he's focused on turning a 2-14 team from 2014 into champions.
"We want to bring a winning mind-set back to the organization and we have the guys to do it and the coaches to help us," he said. "Hopefully, it happens very soon."
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.