Martin Fennelly Columns
Bucs' David already has big fan in Ol' 55
TAMPA - "I know he's an undersized guy who makes plays. They feel he can play well in spaces. He's a high character guy. I've heard he wants to mold his game after me. I can't wait to meet the young man." That was Derrick Brooks. He used to play some outside linebacker here. He was pretty good. Lavonte David, the young man Derrick Brooks would like to meet, practiced for the first time as a Buccaneer on Friday afternoon.Like everyone else, the Bucs' second-round draft pick roasted under the sun. Like everyone else, David did everything he was told by Bucs coach Greg Schiano and staff. Unlike everyone else, David's skills set and leadership, on full display during two seasons and 285 tackles for Nebraska, is drawing comparisons with the great Derrick Brooks. No pressure there, right? Actually, there isn't. The Bucs simply need someone at weakside linebacker. He doesn't have to be another Brooks, which is good, because there will never be another Brooks. David grew up in Miami. He followed the Bucs in their Super Bowl season. He remembers it well. He remembers No. 55. "I know a lot about Derrick Brooks," David said. "I watched him a lot at Florida State. He's a great football player, a great person as well. A lot of people are trying to compare my game with his, but you can't do that, that's one of the all-time greats. I'm just trying to make a name for myself." It seems like yesterday that Brooks was drafted by the Bucs late in the first round in 1995. He went late because there were questions about his size. Those of us who'd watched him at FSU laughed, because, well, we'd watched him at FSU. David is listed at 6 feet, plus a half inch. He weighs 233 pounds. He has heard it all before. "I've been doubted my whole life," David said. "I made a living out of proving people wrong by doing what I'm doing. I'm going to try to keep this up at this level. I've been doubted about my size my whole life." Is this the linebacker the Bucs have been looking for? He sat on the bench at first in Little League football – too small. His first head coach at Miami's Northwestern High School wanted to make him a safety. The linebackers coach held his ground. This, he said, was a linebacker . David helped win state titles for Northwestern. David's first scholarship offer came from the University of South Florida. But his grades weren't there, so it was off to Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, where he was a sensation. Then he went to Lincoln, Neb., and stayed a sensation. He ran. He searched. He destroyed. The Bucs defense, historically bad last season, could use some of that. They need stuff like this, too: When David first arrived at Nebraska, he refused to sit in the front row of the linebackers meeting room, saying simply, quietly, like he says most everything, that he hadn't earned that seat yet. "You've got earn everything you get," David said. "That's how I was brought up, since I was playing Little League football, I had to earn everything I get. That put that mentality in my head. I had that respect for those guys at Nebraska and I'm going to have the same respect for the guys here." David will wear No. 54 for the Bucs. When he was 12, he pulled for the Bucs to win the Super Bowl. He pulled for No. 55, maybe hardest of all. "He's a leader on and off the field," David said of Brooks. "That was kind of my role throughout my college career." "I always picture that play when he made that interception in the Super Bowl. I remember all the picks they had, but Derrick Brooks, his was one of the last ones, and it sealed the game." Brooks can't wait to meet the young man.