LINCOLN, Neb. -- Lavonte David set a Nebraska record for tackles and was one of the most feared defensive players in the Big 12 last season.

Just imagine the numbers the senior linebacker could put up this season in the Big Ten now that he actually knows what he’s doing.

David relied mostly on his instincts after injuries to the team’s most experienced linebackers thrust him into the starting lineup his first year in the program.

Even as David’s double-digit tackle games piled up, nary a compliment could be pried from coach Bo Pelini’s lips. Instead, Pelini would downplay David’s performances and talk about David’s need to operate within the defensive scheme.

“Coach Bo wants you to run his defense,” David said. “If you can make a play, make the play, but at the same time he wants you to know what you’re doing. That’s what I love about these coaches. They know you’re a great player, but they want you to know more stuff so you can be even better.”

David said he’s become more confident in his knowledge of the defense and that he’ll do less freelancing this season.

David was put into a difficult situation last year after he transferred from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. He went into August planning to watch and learn. But Sean Fisher broke his leg three weeks before the season opener, and Will Compton injured a foot two days before the first game.

“When they had him with the threes and fours and he had to make his way up, you could tell he was going to be a player,” Compton said. “They moved him up pretty quick.”

David started against Western Kentucky and finished with 13 tackles.

“He never really played outside the system,” Pelini said, “but he wasn’t in our system enough to know the intricate details of it. He was still able to make plays. As phenomenal a year as he had last year, he could be even better. He’d be the first to tell you that. He’s going to grow as a player. What he was able to do in a short amount of time last year was extraordinary.”

David ended the season with a school-record 152 tackles. He made a season-high 19 against South Dakota State, 16 against Kansas State and 17 in the Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma. He made 10 or more tackles in eight games, and his 10.9 average ranked first in the Big 12 and 11th nationally.

The honors followed: Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year, first-team all-conference and second-team All-American.

“Wherever the ball was, that’s where he was,” safety Austin Cassidy said. “He’s got all kinds of speed. He plays like a linebacker, but he runs like he should be in the secondary.”

David ended up at Nebraska by chance. He played at powerful Northwestern High in Miami and had hoped to join eight of his classmates who went on to sign with the hometown Miami Hurricanes.

But Miami didn’t show much interest in David, and neither did many other Division I schools. He was small for a linebacker and there was some concern about his academics.

So he went to Fort Scott, where he recorded huge tackle numbers and caught the eyes of Nebraska coaches who were impressed with his speed and nose for the ball.

David comes into his senior season as a candidate for the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.

The 6-foot-1 David has prepared for the more run-oriented offenses of the Big Ten, adding 15 pounds to get up to 225. Instead of using a one-linebacker alignment, as they did against the Big 12’s spread offenses, the Huskers probably will go with three in their base alignment.

One linebacker or three, Cassidy expects David to be first to the ball.

“He won’t even be in your peripheral vision, and next thing you know he’s got the guy on the ground and you’re still 5 yards away,” Cassidy said. “It’s like he’s a magician or something.”