Isaac Slade-Matautia is finding his voice on Oregon’s defense.

The admittedly soft-spoken redshirt sophomore is projected to be a starter at linebacker for the Ducks, lining up next to Troy Dye, who will be a fourth-year starter.

“Isaac has stepped into a big role this year, the Mike linebacker so he runs the defense basically,” Dye said. “He’s making all the calls, all the checks and doing a great job with it.”

New defensive coordinator Andy Avalos’ system has forced Slade-Matautia to get comfortable speaking up.

“Coach is telling me every day to be a leader,” he said. “I’m not a very vocal guy, I like to lead by example. I go out there and get the young guys going, telling them what to do. … As the days go on I get more confident with that as we get to know each other more.”

Slade-Matautia had 20 tackles in the first seven games last year while playing behind Kaulana Apelu before missing the final six games with a shoulder injury.

“He understands the defense and is picking right up where Lana left off,” Dye said. “He’s going to have a real breakout season this year. I’m excited because he’s going to surprise a lot of people.”

Slade-Matautia, who attended St. Louis School in Honolulu that also sent Marcus Mariota to Oregon, arrived at fall camp listed at 235 pounds.

“That’s almost 20 more than a year ago and you can feel it in the way he is throwing his body around and some people around,” UO coach Mario Cristobal said. “He has been really good since the spring through the summer to now. His productivity is through the roof so we are real fired up about him.”

Slade-Matautia worked to maintain his speed while bulking up.

“I feel more comfortable in my play,” he said. “Last year, I was on the lighter side being a linebacker but right now its about maintaining it throughout the season and staying healthy.”

The Mike linebacker requires versatility to rush the passer, stop the run and drop back in coverage.

“Isaac is a tough guy and toughness to us means always being here early, doing the right things, making sure you are doing things the way they are taught and demanding the most of others in a positive way,” Cristobal said. “Doing the right things all the time is being a tough guy and that’s what he does at a high level.”

His teammates have noticed that for the past two seasons.

“People are finally realizing the stuff we already saw,” said UO junior cornerback Thomas Graham, who arrived in the same recruiting class as Slade-Matautia. “Isaac came in as a baller and got better each day. Now he finally has a true opportunity to take advantage of it. I feel like this year is his time.”