Chris Luzar could easily I pass for a lumberjack. The Virginia tight end stands 6'7", weighs 255 pounds, can talk for hours about his love for the outdoors and looks at ease with a chain saw in his hands. Unlike most Paul Bunyan types, though, he'll tell you how much he admires Michelangelo, because, as Luzar says, "he said there's only one true art, and that's sculpture. That's how I feel. I'm a sculptor."
Luzar has dabbled in art since elementary school. He's dyslexic, so he was attracted to a discipline that didn't require much reading and writing. "I never did well in English, but I always got an A in art," he says. So Luzar kept taking art classes while also displaying considerable talent on the football field. At Lafayette High in Williamsburg, Va., he was an all-state tight end. When he signed with Virginia, he intended to major in architecture, but the studio time required of budding architects conflicted with football practice. He concentrated on studio art instead.
Last spring Luzar was trying to come up with a subject for his senior project, and he wanted it to be "something big and pretty neat." Then one day, in a scene that would have looked out of place in all but the worst slasher movies, one of his art professors, William Bennett, brought a chain saw to class. He gave it to Luzar and said, "There's a stump out back. See what you can do."
It took Luzar a while to master the intricacies of large-scale carving. "I had used a chain saw before," he says, "but just for cutting firewood."
After a couple of weeks Luzar finished his first chain saw creation: one football player tackling another. "You'd be surprised how detailed you can get with a chain saw," he says. Luzar has turned that piece into part of a coffee table. Subsequent works are on display in the front yard of his rented house, where Luzar does most of his sawing.
The racket of his saw doesn't endear him to his housemates, but as neighbors and others drive by they tend to rubberneck at the sight of the Bunyanesque figure in safety goggles, earplugs and steel-toed boots at work on a tree trunk. "I've almost caused a couple of crashes, but I don't notice people that much," he says with a laugh. "You've got to be focused, or you'll cut your leg off."
Last May, Luzar held his senior show, composed primarily of chain saw artworks, in the Cavaliers' locker room at Scott Stadium, because he wanted faculty members and his fellow art students to see where he spends much of his nonsculpting time and because he wanted his teammates to see his artwork. He was redshirted as a freshman but spent the next three seasons as a backup tight end, making 20 catches in 31 games for 218 yards. A fifth-year senior who graduated with a studio art degree last spring and is now working toward a master's in education, Luzar has started every game this fall (his younger brother, Kase, a sophomore, is his backup) and is second on the team in receiving yards (314) and tied for second in receptions (28).
Luzar's preferred artistic material these days is wood, but he also has sculpted with bronze and plaster, and—inspired by the book of Exodus—he welded pieces of steel to look like a bush and then hooked it up to a propane tank. Just like Moses, he had himself a bush that "burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." (That work also sits in his front yard, but only gets lit on special occasions.)
Luzar, who hopes to teach art after pursuing a career in the NFL, was recently tested in each of his loves. The Cavaliers went on their first five-game losing streak in 19 years, but on a happier note he sculpted a woman from an eight-foot-long, half-ton chunk of a 100-year-old tree Bennett had removed from his property. The work has been on display at a Charlottesville public arts festival. Says Bennett, "I had no doubt that he would turn it into something special."