- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 17, 2010

LINCOLN, NEB. (AP) - Nebraska tackler extraordinaire Lavonte David demurred when told in September that he would be pressed into a starting linebacker’s job.

The junior-college transfer had just arrived on campus over the summer and thought he wasn’t worthy, that he hadn’t earned it yet.

Two months later, David is threatening the ninth-ranked Cornhuskers’ single-season record for tackles and in the running for Big 12 defensive player of the year.

“When we recruited him, we thought he made us different,” defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. “That’s playing out to be true.”

David is different himself, if you believe what you read and hear these days about spoiled athletes and their inflated sense of entitlement.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior is physically gifted, but he also is eager to go beyond what’s expected of him. He’s a self-described football nerd, studying film of opponents on his own time. He said he enjoys trying to break down offenses and recognize their tendencies.

He makes good use of that knowledge on the field.

David has made 106 tackles in 10 games and is the first Nebraska defender to go over 100 since 2004. He has 28 more stops than the Huskers’ No. 2 tackler, DeJon Gomes, and 21 more than leading tackler Ndamukong Suh made in 14 games last year.

This is a guy who made 19 against South Dakota State and 16 against Kansas State.

“He’s really a tackling machine,” Gomes said.

David’s average of 10.6 stops a game is 11th nationally and second in the Big 12 behind Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott’s 10.8.

The Huskers probably have four games left _ they need to beat Texas A&M on Saturday or Colorado next week to reach the Big 12 championship game _ so David has a chance to make the 44 tackles he needs to break Barrett Ruud’s school record of 149 in 2003.

Ruud, who plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said he’s watched about half of Nebraska’s games and likes what he sees in David. Ruud said he would be happy for David if he breaks the record.

“We kind of have similar games,” Ruud said. “We both rely on instincts and rely on feel for the game to be around the ball a lot.”

David said he’s been driven this season to show his teammates that he deserves to be a starter.

“These guys were Blackshirts already,” he said, “and I’m just the new guy. I had to earn their respect.”

David transferred to Nebraska after two years at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. Linebackers coach Mike Ekeler sat David down in front of a grease board and quizzed him over situations a linebacker might encounter. David aced it.

When David arrived in Lincoln in June, he asked linebacker Will Compton to teach him everything about the Huskers’ defensive system. David immersed himself in film study, sometimes with Compton but usually alone. Pelini noticed.

“He’s a great athlete and a great natural player,” Pelini said, “but he is a student of the game. He’s been in the film room, asking questions, taking notes. He’s in the locker room before the game going over all the reminders, going over all the checks, all the adjustments. He’s just a very conscientious football player. When guys prepare like he does, they deserve that success.”

David’s penchant for film study started when he played for powerhouse Northwestern High in Miami. He said he and one of his teammates, Sean Spence, would spend hours with each other trying to figure out what opponents would do. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Spence, also a linebacker, is the leading tackler for the Miami Hurricanes this season.

“It sounds like Lavonte is pretty into it and pretty in to trying to make himself better,” Ruud said. “It can only help you when you’re a young guy trying to learn everything. Watching film, and being able to watch it the right way, is pretty important.”

David said he developed his work ethic at home, where nothing was just given to him.

“You get things given to you, you’re going to expect things,” he said. “When you can’t get things, you’re going to whine and cry. My mother and father taught me that. My father made me earn everything I got.”

So David didn’t celebrate when told he would become a starter after Sean Fisher broke his leg on Aug. 17. David fretted, even though coaches believed his preseason practice performances showed he merited the promotion.

“I hadn’t done anything,” David said, “so I felt like I needed to earn that job.”

It’s safe to say he’s earned it now. He’s second on the team with five sacks and tied for second in pass breakups with six. Oh, and he might set that tackle record.

“A tackle is a tackle. That’s just a stat,” he said. “There are things more than that. It would be great for me. It would show my hard work. But I can always get better.”

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