Nebraska's defense has yet to hit its stride in 2011, but one Husker seems to be playing in fifth gear. Senior linebacker Lavonte David has been the brightest spot on a unit that thus far has fallen short of expectations. A second-team AP All-American who was named the Big 12's Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2010, David has seamlessly transitioned to the Big Ten. He leads Nebraska in both total tackles (58) and tackles for loss (6), and ranks second on the team in sacks (2).
His forced fumble Oct. 8 against Ohio State set the stage for the biggest comeback in Nebraska history, as the Huskers rallied for a potentially season-saving 34-27 win. Nebraska resumes play Saturday at Minnesota, and the defense will lean on David more than ever as star tackle Jared Crick is out for the season.
David recently took some time to talk about his season, his journey, the move to the Big Ten and what lies ahead.
What things did you focus on as a defense during the bye week?
Lavonte David: Just getting better. Everybody had a chance to go in and watch film and try to correct some mistakes everybody's been messing up on. We've got a chance to correct those and take it over to the games now.
What was it like hearing about Jared being out for the season?
LD: It was real tough, real tough. He's a leader on our defense, a guy who has been here for five years. He put his work in. You're just sorry to see a guy go down like that. I talked to him. I just told him to keep his head up. I said, 'We're going to play for you.'
With him out, how much more of the leadership load is put on a guy like you?
LD: All our guys. We've got a great, mature group of guys. Guys are stepping up to fill the void. I'm just continuing to do what I do, keep everybody's heads up and keep everybody motivated.
You spoke up at halftime of the Ohio State game. How have you evolved as a leader on that team?
LD: Somebody needed to say something at that time, and I felt like I needed to. That's just what happened, and I just took over. The coaches just told me I've put in my time and it's time for me to step up. I'm not a talkative guy or a vocal guy. I lead by example, by it's the time where I'm a senior and I have to go out there with an attitude and just start talking.
How has the adjustment to the Big Ten been for you so far?
LD: It hasn't been hard at all. It's a mind thing. You've just got to get yourself prepared for it every week.
I know you put on some weight in the offseason. How has that affected you so far?
LD: It doesn't matter to me. I just love to play football. They told me to get up to a decent weight (225), and I did, on their behalf. We have a great strength and conditioning staff and also a great nutrition staff. The goal is to put weight on and still keep my speed and everything. I just took their word for it and just went by what they told me.
How did going to a junior college first shape you as a player?
LD: Junior college is rough, man. It teaches you a lot of responsibility. It makes you become a man. We had a good coaching staff over at [Fort Scott] junior college. They did a good job preparing me for the role I'm at now.
How did you end up in a juco?
LD: I was sitting around the house, waiting to qualify out of high school, but it didn't work out. Then I got this phone call from Fort Scott Junior College and I just took it from there.
Did you have to regroup mentally at all, not being able to go to a big school coming out of high school?
LD: It wasn't a big deal. I felt like God had a plan for me and I just stuck with his plan and just worked hard.
How did you get to Nebraska?
LD: [Former Fort Scott coach Jeff Sims] knew some of the coaches here. I already knew about the program, knew they had a great program, already knew about coach [Bo] Pelini and what he does on the defensive side. So it was a great fit for me.
How motivated were you to show what you could do at this level?
LD: I was real motivated. Guys coming from junior college, they expect you to play right away, so I had that mentality, and I came out and tried to do the best I can, contribute in any way I can.
Did you surprise yourself with how well you played in your first season?
LD: No, not really. I had help from great guys like Will Compton and Sean Fisher when I came over. Those guys helped me every step of the way. I take my hat off to those guys. They just prepared me for it.
You have half a season to play. How far away are you guys from being the defense you talked about being before the year?
LD: We're getting better as the weeks go on. Guys are just working hard. Guys are really trying to get after it, getting in the film room and trying to better themselves.
What would it mean to get to the Big Ten championship game?
LD: It would mean a lot. It would show our hard work and how we've dealt with adversity and kept fighting. It would show we didn't give up and we kept working hard, and then everything just paid off for us.