If you were to trace the path that led linebacker Lavonte David to the NFL, you would eventually find yourself at Fort Scott Junior College in Kansas.
That is where David's football career got the spark it needed to catch fire, and where a seemingly unbreakable bond developed between David and a teammate who literally put his career on the line for the Buccaneers rookie.
The year was 2009 and David was drawing interest from several schools, but not as much interest as his buddy Jemarcus Hardrick, a mountain of an offensive tackle whom schools across the nation clamored for.
As National Signing Day approached, Louisiana State had the inside track on Hardrick, but Hardrick played hardball. He was interested in LSU, all right, but he told the Tigers staff he wouldn't commit unless LSU committed to David in return.
"We'd been together since we were freshmen, we were best friends and we were like a package deal,'' Hardrick said. "So I kept telling them, if you don't offer Lavonte (a scholarship), I'm not coming.''
Hardrick made good on that threat, sending a shockwave through Tiger nation. He boldly issued it again as signing day neared and Nebraska came calling. The Cornhuskers staff, though, was a step ahead of him.
They had been watching David for a while. It was just about the time that Hardrick issued his demand while on the phone with the Cornhuskers that Nebraska defused the situation by offering David a scholarship, as well.
"He told (the Nebraska recruiters) that he wasn't going to commit unless I committed, but they'd already talked to me,'' David said. "After that, it took a little while but eventually we decided to commit together.''
David and Hardrick remain a package deal. They are together again here in Bucs training camp, and Hardrick is convinced David, a second-round draft pick, had something to do with that.
"He got drafted early, and I think he had a little pull and helped me get here,'' said Hardrick, who signed as an undrafted free agent. "I really don't think I'd be here were it not for him.''
That's not quite how the Bucs see it.
Like Nebraska with David, the Bucs had planned for a while to offer Hardrick a chance to wear their uniform, general manager Mark Dominik said. With David already here, though, Hardrick never hesitated.
"Ever since we got to Fort Scott, where we were the only two true freshmen to make the team that year, it's kind of like been us against the world and we've just been tight ever since,'' Hardrick said.
"There isn't anything I wouldn't do for Lavonte, and I think he feels the same way about me. We push each other in practice. We push each other off the field. There's just a lot of loyalty and respect there.''
The Bucs have developed respect for Hardrick and David, as well. They love Hardrick's size at 6-foot-7, 320 pounds and think he could have a future if he polishes his technique a bit.
David, they think, is good enough to start at weakside linebacker, which is where he's worked since the Bucs traded back to draft him at No. 58 overall.
"He's grasping the schemes well, playing the game fundamentally well and he's playing downhill,'' coach Greg Schiano said. "He's our kind of guy. He loves the game. He's always prepared and he's unselfish.''
David said the Bucs' defensive scheme is one reason he's playing so well. It's an attacking scheme that plays to his ability to quickly diagnose a play, get into position and make a big hit.
"All you really have to do in this scheme is do your job, and when you get the chance, you go out and make a play,'' David said. "You don't want to get into a situation where you're trying to do too much. Just do your job.''
Part of David's job will be to develop chemistry with fellow projected starters Quincy Black and Mason Foster. The trio is making good progress on that front, he said.
"I talk to those guys all the time, and they've really helped me a lot with the scheme and things like that,'' he said. "We give each other little tips all the time.
"Like with Mason, I asked him how he handled things his rookie year and his advice was really good. He said to just make sure you go all out all the time and never just go through the motions.''
It seems there's little chance of that happening, especially with his old friend Hardrick around to give him a push and nudge every now and then.