CHARLOTTESVILLE, OCT. 16 -- Chris Slade talks loud, walks proud and draws crowds. His antics at defensive end for the Virginia Cavaliers fill highlight films, but on a mostly low-key team that mirrors taciturn Coach George Welsh, his volume this season has been particularly blaring.
Slade no longer talks about moonlighting on the Virginia basketball team or running for student council president. Life as the most dangerous defensive weapon on the top-ranked Virginia football team, evidently, is fulfilling enough.
Slade still is a never-ending source of bold rhetoric: Such as his preseason prediction that Virginia would go undefeated, his promise in Week 2 that the Cavaliers would beat Clemson for the first time in the 35-year series, and his pronouncement this week condemning critics of Virginia's first-ever No. 1 ranking.
"Everyone says we don't deserve to be where we're at because we don't play anybody," he said. "But it's not our fault the teams we play aren't as good as we are. We don't make the schedule up, we just play it."
Slade watches film each week of New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor -- a former golf buddy at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg -- and introduces himself simply as "Slade."
Each weekday morning at 7:30, while most students sleep, Slade readies for class, causing an uproar that startles the deepest of sleepers sentenced to spending an entire year in the same apartment building.
Slade, who doesn't seem to do anything quietly, has an affinity for loud music. Really loud music, which invokes daily wall pounding from all directions. Apparently no one wants to confront the 6-foot-5, 226-pound sophomore about his morning routine, not even teammates and quiet roommates Herman Moore and Don Reynolds, who have coped with the situation.
"I just keep a pair of headphones next to my bed to cover my ears," said Moore, Virginia's big-play wide receiver. "He always says the music's not that loud. I really don't think he can hear that well."
That's a common sentiment about Slade -- that he just doesn't listen. Welsh booted him from practice several times last season for roughing up quarterback Shawn Moore, after Welsh repeatedly told his defense not to tackle his Heisman Trophy candidate.
Assistants say they aren't sure whether to have Slade play the set team defense or just rush the passer, and his teammates on the defensive line insist he sometimes misses an assignment, then makes up for it by sacking the quarterback. "He's not real coachable," defensive tackle Joe Hall said. "He looks terrible during drills, but they just sort of take him off his leash and let him go."
And the results have been staggering. Slade was credited with 4 1/2 sacks Saturday against N.C. State and had a hand in all eight drops of Terry Jordan. The Virginia defense, which had just 17 sacks all last season, has 18 in its first six games.
Slade set a personal goal of 10 this year, a mark he likely will reach long before the last game. But the goal seemed overly ambitious before Saturday, what with a nagging ankle injury having kept him out of the season opener at Kansas and limiting him to 2 1/2 sacks over the next four games.
"For a while there, I was kind of worried," Slade said. "There's no excuse because I knew I was better than the guys I was going up against. I didn't want people to think last year was a fluke."
On his first college play, he planted Penn State quarterback Tom Bill in the Beaver Stadium grass, then became a starter three weeks later when Reynolds sprained an ankle against William and Mary. Slade finished the season with four sacks, capturing the Bill Dudley Award as the team's top freshman and earning recognition by one publication as the nation's top freshman defensive end.
In August Slade deemed the Cavaliers contenders for the national championship, citing Clemson as the only major stumbling block to an undefeated season. Welsh sat nearby, lamenting the future of his team with three new linebackers. "If I ever thought it was getting out of hand, I'd say something to him," Welsh said.
Slade made good on his Clemson guarantee, sacking DeChane Cameron and hounding him for being "too short," while Virginia upended the Tigers for the first time in 30 tries.
Safety Keith McMeans, who tied the ACC career interception record of 17 against the Wolfpack, credited Slade with forcing the errant throw, and teammates cited his performance as the key factor in reversing the fortunes of the defense, which surrendered 35 points to William and Mary but shut out N.C. State, 31-0.
And Slade hasn't been kicked out of practice this season. "He's toned down a lot, but he's still hyper," offensive tackle Paul Collins said. "The worst thing you can do is limit what he wants to do."