Were you there? Were you watching the night that Lavonte David became a Husker football legend? During a rainy October night in Lincoln, NE, it appeared that the Ohio State Buckeyes would deliver a second knockout to the Huskers just as the Wisconsin Badgers did the week prior.
Up 27-6 with just under eight minutes left on the clock in the third quarter, the Buckeyes started their march roughly 80 yards from pay dirt. Quarterback Braxton Miller kept on a read option and made headway before a fumble. Well, technically it went down as a fumble on the stat sheet. David took the ball away from Miller.
The two players didn’t collide causing the pigskin to come loose, David simply jumped in and yanked it away. What would follow was the greatest comeback in Nebraska football history, now spanning 125 years.
It’s hard to say that excellence wasn’t expected from David, but not what college football saw. Even as a freshman at Fort Scott Community College in 2008, he led the team with 93 tackles before cranking up the heat in 2009.
While Ndamukong Suh was chucking Blaine Gabbert around, David was tallying nearly double-digit tackles per game. He ended the season with 19.5 tackles for loss. Once it was time to play with the big boys, it just so happened that the Big Red needed some help and came gunning for him.
Nobody, absolutely nobody saw him stepping into Memorial Stadium and racking up 152 tackles, snapping Barrett Ruud‘s record of 149 during his first season. David wasn’t a band-aid or a salve to heal the Huskers’ linebacker wounds, he was a cybernetic replacement.
In eight games, his tackle total reached double-digits and come season’s end, he was ranked No. 2 on the team in tackles for loss (15), sacks (6) and pass breakups (10).
What does a player do for an encore after a year like that? Surely the bar can’t be raised, then topped after that kind of a season. Yeah, you could say that of an elite player, but not a legend.
Let’s dial the clocks back two seasons again.
Nebraska was 4-0 through non-conference play and the defense was showing some significant cracks. The Huskers tripped to meet the Wisconsin Badgers as their first Big Ten conference foe. Bo Pelini’s team was unceremoniously driven from the building by a score of 48-17.
Another one of the league’s best teams came to town decked in scarlet and gray. Facing a three touchdown deficit in the third quarter, suddenly Nebraska didn’t look like a boon to the Big Ten so much as a sacrifice. If the Big Red was stomped by two league powers back-to-back, Husker fans could’ve been staring at a Callahan era record.
Remember, Northwestern toppled the Huskers at home and Michigan lambasted them in Ann Arbor. Who’s to say Nebraska comes off their bye week and defeats Minnesota by 27 points (a likely win minus a complete meltdown, admittedly).
However, Michigan State was no slouch and due to that Ohio State rally and gut punch of the Golden Gophers, the Blackshirts finally came to play and dismissed the Spartans. Thank Lavonte David. Yes, the Huskers earned the ceremonial dark jerseys that day, but they took the energy from No. 4 and generated more following every positive play.
If not for Lavonte David, all the talk of Pelini finally turning the corner wouldn’t be happening. No rally against Ohio State. No resurgence against Goldy and Sparty. The awkward Penn State game would have been a loss without him around to make his crucial 4th-and-1 stop to save the game. The now seventh-year head coach would’ve been shown the door.
While 2011 was still a rough season, David was the super glue that held the team together just enough from crumbling. To do that, he had to step his game up to legendary status. His 133 tackles wasn’t a record-breaker, but he led the Huskers in tackles for loss (13), sacks (5.5), interceptions (2), fumbles caused (2) and fumble recoveries (2). Simply put, he did what needed to be done.
In two years, David went from highly-touted JUCO transfer to a selling point of the Nebraska football program. He’s already an All-Pro. What he may do in the NFL and beyond is up in the air, but his Husker legacy contains one indisputable fact.
There will never be another Lavonte David, only those compared to him.
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