Brad Jackson's lips move at the speed of light. The University of Cincinnati linebacker is college football's filibuster, the national champion of sentences spoken, syllables uttered and trash talked.
His life is one long monologue, punctuated periodically by bone-bending tackles.
''Offensive players hate me because I never stop talking,'' Jackson said during a recent address at Nippert Stadium. ''A lot of it is idle chatter, but if I beat someone on a play, I keep reminding them.''
In a season that begins with numerous variables, the Bearcats can find comfort in the constant chirping of Jackson's voice. UC coach Rick Minter will be breaking in new skill players on both sides of the line of scrimmage Thursday night against Tulsa, but his starting linebackers are solid, seasoned and supremely confident. Jackson, Phillip Curry and Hassan Champion have given UC three good reasons to gloat.
Jackson may not be the best of this bunch, but he is surely the loudest. In a cynical age, in an arduous game, he conveys unqualified, untempered joy. He is one of those extroverted athletes whose smile is not dependent on the proximity of cameras.
''The football field is the only place I have no worries, no cares, no bills,'' he said. ''Once I step onto the field, I have no problems in life. It's pure fun.''
'A little silly at times'
His enthusiasm is almost excessive. Bob Black, Jackson's coach at Akron's Firestone High School, recalls that his erstwhile receiver was ''a little silly at times.'' He was, in fact, a little silly a lot of the time.
''I was a showboat,'' Jackson said. ''I'd score a touchdown and take my helmet off, do some little dance in the end zone. I was truly hated in high school.''
Brad Jackson began his football career, Black said, with the approximate build of a ''pencil.'' He stood 5-foot-11 and weighed perhaps 160 pounds when he first suited up for Firestone. Black instinctively assigned the scrawny kid to the perimeter, first as a wide receiver, and later as a safety.
''I never hit anybody,'' Jackson confessed, ''till I got here.''
When he finally did get physical, Brad Jackson discovered that the other guys hit back. Moved to linebacker at UC, Jackson absorbed so much punishment so quickly that he eventually called home in tears, and pleaded with his mother to allow him to transfer. He wanted to go to some school that would allow him to play another, less strenuous position.
Sherry Jackson insisted that her son see it through at UC.
''It was tough,'' he said. ''I just had to rely on my quickness. I didn't have the brute strength or the weight to be truly physical.''
Cheshire Bearcat at linebacker
Even after redshirting his freshman year, Jackson was able to bulk up only to 180 pounds for the 1994 season. By the standards of his position, he was puny. Photographs of Jackson then and now could easily pass for different people.
He starts his senior year having filled out to 228 pounds and is no longer totally reliant on technique to make tackles. More and more, Brad Jackson is able to manhandle his opponents.
''Now,'' he said, ''I do as I please.''
At this, Jackson stops flapping his lips long enough to form a large, playful grin. He becomes the Cheshire Bearcat.
Then he launches into another speech, unprompted and unstoppable, soliloquizing on the season ahead and his many reasons for optimism. Much as he despises the glamour guys on offense - ''I hate offensive players in all aspects'' - Jackson pauses to praise his UC teammates trusted to move the ball.
He speaks mainly in superlatives, and his breathless wonder suggests some of the people who do pledge breaks for PBS.
''It's been 47 years since the last bowl team at UC,'' he said. ''I've been counting. And time's up.''
Brad Jackson believes the Bearcats will be the talk of the town this fall. He has mouth enough to make it happen.
BEARCATS AIM FOR BOWL