Super Bowl champion Lavonte David is focused on his legacy beyond football
David speaks about his foundation’s college scholarship, his new contract and the infamous ‘Eat the W’ speech
By football standards, Lavonte David is old.
The 31-year-old linebacker has been playing in the NFL since being selected 58th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2012 draft, a draft so long ago that the only top-5 pick still playing is Robert Griffin III.
These days, David, who signed a two-year contract extension with the Bucs this offseason, has to take better care of his body compared with his earlier playing days when he could, for example, skip warm-ups and go straight out on the field and perform. While David’s body is feeling good following the Buccaneers’ stunning 31-9 victory over Patrick Mahomes and the vaunted Kansas City offense in Super Bowl LV, it’s because he is smarter about his health and preparation. “Maintenance treatment,” as he calls it, keeps him (literally) up to speed with the young 20-somethings who enter the league every year.
With all that age comes wisdom and perspective. David, a product of the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami, has reached a point in his career where his legacy is as important as championships won or money earned (although his new two-year, $25 million extension could buy many legacies).
Through his eponymous foundation, David created the “Lavonte Legends” scholarship, which will award $5,000 to 10 high school students from the Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties who plan to attend college.
Education is important to David because it almost upended his career before it began. David barely had a 2.0 GPA coming out of Northwestern High School, so instead of enrolling at Tennessee, Georgia or Miami – schools that recruited him – he had to attend Fort Scott Community College in Fort Scott, Kansas, just to be able to play immediately.
“Once you get to education, then everything else falls in place,” David told The Undefeated.
David spoke about Lavonte Legends, whether his newest contract brought him happiness, and being present for Jameis Winston’s infamous “Eat the W” speech.
The Super Bowl was two months ago. How’s your body feeling after the season?
I started back working out probably like two weeks after the Super Bowl. For a guy like me, being older, it’s really important to stay in shape as much as I can, some type of shape.
So far it’s been really good. I actually just came from getting some maintenance treatment on my body, just doing some small stuff to keep my body intact. I feel pretty good. I’ve been blessed enough not to have no major injuries throughout my career. Haven’t had that many injuries, period. So, whatever I’m doing, I’m just trying to stick with it. And whatever God’s doing for me as well, but I’m just trying to stay blessed and trying to stay healthy for another great season.
You brought up your age and that just made me think of myself. I sneezed, and my back still hurts three days later. For a 31-year-old football player who has played nine seasons, how is recovery different now from when you were younger?
Huge difference. I tell a lot of young guys now I remember I could go out there and just go play without warming up, without stretching, without doing nothing. But now I need to take a little time out, like 30 minutes, to get my body warmed up, to get my body going to be able to go full speed. … Your joints get beat up a little bit and you just got to find different ways to get your body warmed up so you can go out there and play with the 22-, 23-year-olds.
You were recently speaking to reporters after you signed your two-year, $25 million extension, and you said that you wanted to be known as someone who’s loving, caring and kind, and someone who does the best for his community. I could be wrong, but I read that as you being a Black man and wanting to help people who look like you. Is that important to you?
It’s very important for me. Growing up, I didn’t see many people with the same color as me that come back in the neighborhood and help out in different ways. So I feel like I could change that trend. It happened a little bit, because I grew up in the inner city of Miami. You got a lot of people from Miami who did make it out and make it to the league or make it to where they can provide for their family. I just want to try to continue to push that narrative. Just go back in the inner city and just give people hope, give people where I grew up from hope, because it’s a lot of negativity around where I grew up.
So what I just tried to do was just be that light, be that positive light that they need. If they see me coming out, helping out and being in a position I’m in, and they see me helping out and doing great things in the community, I’m sure the next person who makes it out would be a kid I reached while I was doing what I’m doing, and then they’d be able to come back and do the same thing. So hopefully it’s going to be a trend started and help the community that I grew up in and just continue to get better, and change the way kids look at things.
As far as the extension, or any of the deals that you signed before this, did it bring you the amount of happiness that you thought it would?
I mean, I was obviously happy, but … I’m happy because I earned it and did what I had to do to get it, but I’m really happy for the position it puts me in. It puts me in a position to help my family out, help my community out and do things that I always dreamed of doing as far as setting my family up and … setting certain people for generational wealth. That’s the main thing that I really got from getting that contract.
It’s never been really about the money for me. I really loved the game of football and I loved playing it. I think the money part is a plus. It’s a job, and you get paid for doing your job really well, and that’s what’s just been happening. Obviously it’s a lot of money, so now I could just say, ‘Man, this is something that I always wanted to do, what my mom wanted me to do,’ and I’m in a position to do that now with the money that I have.
Can you tell me about the Lavonte Legends scholarship aspect of the Lavonte David Foundation, from the conception of the idea and what your plans are for it?
It’s basically a foundation where I can financially help kids who are looking to go to school and don’t have enough money to pay for it. Whatever donations [we receive], all the proceeds go to my foundation’s account. And it gets distributed out to the kids who are worthy and willing to take on that challenge of going to school and trying to get an education.
This idea came to me because I struggled in school coming out and I ended up going to junior college, but luckily I was playing football. But some kids don’t have that privilege to. Some don’t have a chance to get a scholarship or academic scholarship. I was lucky. So what I wanted to do was just try to help those who actually can’t.
It’s a great deed for me to do that because I always wanted to help kids. Even when I’m done playing football, I still want to be out in the community helping kids … achieve their goals and help boost the momentum, the encouragement that they need to reach their goals and go to school, experiencing that and getting a degree.
I was listening to you on the I AM ATHLETE podcast, and you were talking about not having the grades to get into an FBS-level, Division I school. What did you learn from that experience having to go to a juco [junior college] that makes you emphasize education in particular with kids now?
Going to juco, I think, was one of the best things that happened to me because it got me out of my comfort zone, I would say. It helped me grow up real fast, helped me learn about responsibilities … helped me view education very, very differently. I know a lot of kids don’t want to go to juco and things like that because it’s rugged; it’s basically like a dog-eat-dog world and you’re out there on your own. Me, a kid from Miami, one way to Fort Scott, Kansas, where I had no idea where it was. It just made me reflect back, like, ‘Dang, I should have just did what I had to do: Go to class, get all my schoolwork done, hand it in.’ But I don’t regret nothing.
But for me to go through that, I wouldn’t want nobody else to go through that, because it’s tough moments, but at the same time, it did help me out. But I feel like it’s all about the mindset: If you have the right mindset, you can achieve it. But I would definitely encourage kids [to] just get your education. Focus on your education while you’re in high school, all that other stuff is secondary.
Outside of quality education or going to college, what do you think is the biggest obstacle for young Black men and women trying to make it in America?
I would say the biggest thing is probably overcoming stereotypes. A lot of people see a young Black man or Black woman [and] just view them as a certain person, view them as this perception that they get from society. But the main thing is I feel you just got to do the best you can to just change the way people view you by having a great character, being respectful and showing up, doing what you’re supposed to do.
That’s what’s set a lot of young Black kids back, people just treat them as – I hate to say it – troublemakers or people who ain’t going to get the job done, whatever it may be. That’s just the way that society was set up for young Black men and women, everything just so stereotypical and it’s messed up.
What was this last season like in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and all the protests it spawned?
People were basically fed up. Not just Black people. … Everybody’s just fed up and understanding that everything that’s been going on isn’t right. I feel like a lot of people came together and just tried to understand what their African American teammates or African American peers had to deal with growing up and how they feel about what they’re seeing out there in society. Everybody just sat down and just had that conversation that needs to be had. And a lot of people were very understanding, and you see the positive outcomes.
What was it like going from minimal team success in your first eight seasons in the league to Super Bowl champions?
It’s tough. I would say my first eight years … I guess the love of the game kept me positive and kept me always looking at the one day, always understanding that something’s going to change. And within those first eight seasons, some of those seasons, probably like three or four, were really, really bad. And there were times where I was like, ‘Man, I can’t do this no more. I want to try to ask for a trade. I want to get released. I want to go somewhere else.’ But I had the right people in my corner, and then also the organization, for me, believed in me. And they believed that I was one of the cornerstones with the team.
They were going to do the best they can to get this thing turned around. And when Coach BA [Bruce Arians] was hired, that’s one of the things that he told me, ‘Stick around, you’re going to win some football games. It’s going to change.’ That first season with Coach being there didn’t go our way, but we played really good football, so I was very optimistic about it. And then this past season, getting Tom Brady in there and then adding some weapons here and there and being able to accomplish what we accomplished. It was really, really, really breathtaking. Whatever happened those past eight years is forgotten about. I’m a Super Bowl champion now.
And when it comes to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles – and I hate using this word, but it’s the best way to describe it – he looks scary. As someone who plays under Bowles, what’s he like?
He’s the opposite of scary. Coach Bowles is the most coolest, funny, jokingest coach I’ve ever been around. He’s easy to talk to. It’s an open-door policy every time, whether it’s about life, about business, about football. Whatever, he’ll talk about everything. All he does is just want you to see what you want to do. Whether it’s life outside of football, whether it’s football itself. Obviously his first priority is just making you the best football player you can be.
He never yells, but his yelling basically comes when he’s telling you like it is. He’s a straightforward guy, which all grown men want to have around their corner. Somebody is going to be real with you. He’s definitely one of those guys and definitely a fun coach to play for. I respect him a hell of a lot. He’s definitely a guy who I feel like deserves another head-coaching opportunity. Hopefully sooner or later that’ll happen.
‘Eat the W.’ What were your thoughts in 2017?
I was right in the heart of it [Eat the W]. My boy Jameis [Winston], he’s a very, very, very energetic, animated guy. That was just something that he thought up off the top of his head. And he came out with it and it was weird, man. It was weird, honestly. He knows it was weird. Everybody wasn’t really thrilled with it for a hype-up speech, but unfortunately, that’s going to follow my guy Jameis for his whole career.
He meant well by it. But that particular thing didn’t go over well with the rest of the team, and the outcome of that game kind of proved it. It definitely was something that kind of caught me off guard. I was kind of like, ‘What?’ It is what it is, though. We all love Jameis. He meant well. He’s a great competitor, but unfortunately, that’s going to follow him for a long time.
This interview has been edited and condensed.