BOSTON — “There’s Brady! There’s LT! And there’s Slater!”
Jerod Mayo’s deep, booming voice resonated by the Patriots’ weight room.
“There’s Brady! There’s LT! And there’s Slater!”
“(He) will go up there, in the kicking game, with Tom Brady on offense and (Lawrence) Taylor on defense,” Belichick informed reporters in late March. “So I feel very, very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach all the players, but I’d say those three in particular.”
It was the kind of assertion Slater would ignore if he might. He lengthy has adopted the rule that he doesn’t learn something written about him. And if his spouse, Shahrzad, reads one thing about him, she is to not inform him.
So Slater informed Mayo, a teammate for eight years who now’s the Patriots’ defensive coordinator, to chop it out. Slater went to a nook of the room and resumed his lifting.
Belichick, who typically acts as if he would somewhat produce a kidney stone than a praise, has praised Slater lavishly earlier than however privately. During a workforce assembly within the 2020 season, Belichick stood earlier than his workforce and stated, “It’s a shame if you younger guys don’t take advantage of having Slate in the room and find time to talk to him. He’s the greatest special teams player of all time.”
For the following few weeks, Patriots security Devin McCourty known as Slater “The GOAT.”
“He kept blushing and getting embarrassed,” McCourty says.
Slater can’t be blamed for being uncomfortable with homage. This is a participant who has began three video games since highschool, caught one cross within the NFL, fumbled away his job as a kick returner and has scored one profession landing.
Slater is nothing however a particular groups participant. The solely time he performs offense is in victory formation on the finish of the sport. His solely alternatives on the opposite facet of the ball are when the Patriots guard towards a number of laterals on the final snap of their “Desperado” protection.
Slater has by no means had the acclaim Taylor and Brady have.
He does, nevertheless, have one thing else.
Patriots scouts recognized it once they have been evaluating him earlier than the 2008 draft. Scott Pioli, then the Patriots’ vice chairman of participant personnel, says it was straightforward to see Slater’s pace, intelligence and spirit.
And there was one thing else that stood out to them when he was overlaying kicks and punts, one thing virtually everybody else missed.
“Rare vision,” Pioli says.
That imaginative and prescient explains what logic can not.
Slater’s soccer life most likely by no means ought to have begun.
His father, Jackie Slater, performed offensive deal with for the Rams. Though Matthew begged his father to let him play soccer, Jackie pushed him to different sports activities.
Physically, Matthew didn’t take after Jackie, who was 6-foot-4, 280 kilos. And he didn’t give off athletic vibes. “You had glasses and asthma, and you were this little scrawny kid,” Jackie tells him now, chuckling.
Slater’s soccer life most likely ought to have led to 2007.
What Matthew lacked in brawn, he made up for in pace. And he elevated his pace by working with Jackie’s teammate Ron Brown, who received an Olympic gold medal within the 4×100-meter relay.
As a freshman at Servite High School, Matthew, at 135 kilos, performed soccer for the primary time. He discovered his area of interest as a large receiver, lettering twice. Slater was modestly productive, however not a star. He additionally ran monitor, ending second in state within the 100-meter sprint with a time of 10.62 seconds and fourth within the 200-meter sprint with a 21.39.
Slater initially deliberate to attend Dartmouth. But he couldn’t resist the lure of big-time soccer and went to UCLA to play broad receiver.
In his first season, he suffered turf toe. In his second, he had a stress fracture. After two years, he had not performed a lot and his future in this system was unsure. A teammate and buddy, extra pragmatic than tactful, informed him, “Man, you’re never gonna play. Have you thought about transferring?”
Slater did take into consideration transferring to Dartmouth however as a substitute requested coach Karl Dorrell if he might change to protection. He grew to become a defensive again and likewise was allowed to begin overlaying kicks.
Even although he would by no means begin a recreation at UCLA, he grew to become a wonderful particular groups participant. As a senior, he had 25 tackles and averaged 29 yards on 34 kick returns with three touchdowns.
At the tip of his school profession in 2007, Slater requested his father if he thought he had a future within the NFL. Best-case situation, Jackie reasoned, Matthew can be signed as an undrafted free agent and get an opportunity as a kick returner.
Matthew was not invited to any all-star video games or the mix. But seven groups — the Bears, Bucs, Giants, Jaguars, Jets, Ravens and Texans — introduced him in for a go to. And unbeknownst to Slater, the Patriots quietly had taken a robust curiosity.
During the draft, the Patriots made a commerce, giving up a seventh-round decide to maneuver up seven spots within the fifth spherical. That’s when Slater’s cellphone rang.
When Patriots director of soccer Berj Najarian informed him New England was drafting him, Slater thought, “Have they made a mistake?”
Slater’s soccer life most likely ought to have led to 2008.
In Slater’s first rookie assembly, Belichick had a brusque message for the draft class.
“We don’t need any of you guys,” Belichick stated.
The Patriots went undefeated within the earlier common season. At his first minicamp, Slater discovered himself in conferences with Brady, who had already received three Super Bowls, Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
“I was certainly intimidated,” he says. “I felt I didn’t belong.”
Whether or not he belonged was one factor; the place he belonged was one other. On his first day, he was given three playbooks, one for offense, one for protection and one for particular groups. For 4 performs, he lined up at broad receiver, then he slipped a blue pinny over his jersey and performed protection for the following 4.
He was overwhelmed. At one level, he known as his father and requested if the workforce might lower him earlier than paying his $175,000 signing bonus. The rookie prayed that he would simply make the observe squad so at some point he might say he was within the NFL. But Slater someway made the 53-man roster.
In late November, the Patriots have been trailing the Steelers 13-10 within the third quarter on a wet night in Foxboro. Slater ready to area a kickoff. The ball hit his facemask and bounced in entrance of him. He tried to retrieve it however kicked it. The Steelers recovered on the 8-yard line and scored two performs later. In a Patriots loss, that was the turning level.
“That moment was one of the moments I remember most in my career because I just wanted to crawl in a hole and never be seen or heard from again,” Slater says. “That feeling of letting my team down was really tough.”
The Patriots received their final 4 video games however missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
Slater’s soccer life most likely ought to have led to 2009.
In the Patriots’ second preseason recreation of his second season, Slater was overlaying a punt return when a good catch was known as. He bumped into the returner, drawing a 15-yard penalty. On the sideline, Belichick calmly informed Slater how he ought to have prevented the penalty and in a gathering the following day went into additional element.
On the primary punt of the sport the next week towards Washington, Slater did it once more, drawing one other penalty for operating into returner Dominique Dorsey after Dorsey had known as for a good catch.
Sheepishly, Slater walked to the sideline the place Belichick, with a contorted face, was ready.
Belichick: “Of course you hit him! Yeah, you f—— hit him. Dumb football.”
Slater: “I had a hard time when …”
Belichick: “F— that. You hit him.”
Slater walked away and took a seat on the bench. He appeared up and Belichick was in his face once more, along with his again to the sphere whereas a play was being run.
Belichick: “We just talked about this. The same f—— thing you did last week!”
Slater: “Yes sir. Yes sir.”
Slater’s roster spot was removed from assured. “My rookie year wasn’t the best,” he says. “I was thinking this was not going to end well for me.”
Slater’s soccer life most likely ought to have led to 2017.
With assist from many, together with particular groups coaches Scott O’Brien and Brian Flores, in addition to power coach Moses Cabrera and fellow particular groups ace Nate Ebner, Slater survived his early struggles. He was phased out of his function as a kick returner due to ball safety points, however he grew to become probably the greatest particular groups gunners and blockers within the league.
In coaching camps, he had an added worth as a result of he might run routes, particularly deep routes, which allowed Moss and Welker, and later Julian Edelman and Brandin Cooks, to save lots of their legs.
While operating a vertical nook route a couple of week into camp in 2017, Slater felt a pop at the back of his knee. An MRI revealed an entire rupture of his hamstring tendon. He thought of surgical procedure however determined towards it. After lacking the remainder of camp and preseason and the season’s first 4 video games, he returned. But he was in ache when he ran, and his pace was decreased by about 20 p.c. In his fourth recreation again, he tore his hamstring biceps, which had been overtaxed from the tendon tear.
As the season ended, Slater was a beat-up 32-year-old in his ninth yr with an expiring contract who by no means would have the ability to run the way in which he as soon as did.
Five years and 4 Pro Bowls later, Slater is getting into his fifteenth NFL season because the longest-tenured member of the Patriots. He is one among solely 9 gamers remaining from the 252-man draft class of 2008. And he and McCourty are the one present Patriots gamers with three Super Bowl rings.
Slater remembers being 4 or 5 years outdated and seeing the flicker in his father’s eyes as he talked about how Walter Payton labored out once they have been teammates at Jackson State, and describing the problem of lining up towards Reggie White.
Matthew watched Jackie work to increase his profession to 18, 19 and eventually 20 years. Every summer time within the sticky Mississippi warmth, Matthew stood by as Jackie, with a gallon jug of water on the prepared, pushed himself to locations hardly anybody else might at the highschool monitor. Then, on the Pump House, Matthew taped his wrists like Dad as Jackie went by his lifting routine.
“He saw the grind of being a football player, and it wasn’t pretty,” Jackie says. “But I think he identified with it.”
To this present day, Matthew has by no means seen anybody work more durable. He has extra reminiscences of his father’s coaching than his enjoying.
“I remember the look on his face of determination and the commitment he had to his process,” Matthew says. “Those images still live on in my mind, and that fuels me. When I go out there and represent the name Slater, I’m representing a legacy that’s much bigger than myself. I don’t want to let him down.”
Matthew, who takes not more than 14 days off a yr in response to Shahrzad, is acknowledged as the toughest working Patriot.
“When the other players and their wives go to his house for couples Bible study, we’ll all get there before Slate,” McCourty says. “Most of us have left the facility three or four hours ago. I’ll leave, get a massage, pick up my wife and go to his house, and he still hasn’t left the facility.”
Slater’s workdays can stretch to fifteen hours.
At 7:30 a.m., after pitching in with the morning routines of his youngsters, Hannah, Jeremiah, Micah and Noah, he can often be discovered at Gillette Stadium, going over the day’s scripts.
About 12 hours later, he’s the final participant within the facility, and Belichick typically tells him, “Go home, Slate.”
At 8:30 at evening, he stretches on the bed room flooring for as much as 90 minutes. It’s lots of yin yoga, from his pecs to his calves. He holds some poses for so long as two minutes.
At 10 p.m., you may discover him on a darkish street in his neighborhood carrying a flashlight, carrying reflectors on his torso and a headlamp on his brow. He’s going for a stroll of a mile or two to flush out irritation.
Determination enabled him to reinvent himself after his hamstring damage as a participant much less reliant on pace and extra reliant on method and physicality. Of course, the ravages of time have affected him — he’s had seven surgical procedures — however Slater discovered methods to redirect himself.
Slater, a do-everything-the-right-way type of man, abstains from gluten and sugar. Alcohol holds no attract for him. Ninety p.c of what he eats, he doesn’t like.
It’s not a burden. “I enjoy the suffering,” he says. “I enjoy the grind. If it’s easy and I’m not hurting a little and not questioning myself a little, then I’m not working hard enough.”
Self-awareness is one among Slater’s items. He is clear-eyed about what he’s. More importantly, he’s clear-eyed about what he isn’t.
In Slater’s first discuss with Belichick on draft day, his coach informed him he wasn’t positive the place he would play on offense or protection, however he was drafted to assist the Patriots within the kicking recreation.
“My role was defined right then and there,” Slater says. “I’ll never forget that conversation for as long as I live.”
In his first few NFL years, Slater was a large receiver, however he hardly ever performed on offense. In 2011, he began three video games on protection in December when accidents worn out Patriots safeties. The following season Slater went again to offense, however within the subsequent 10 years, he had solely two passes thrown his means. In 2017, after Slater ruptured his hamstring tendon, Belichick informed him, “We’re done with this offensive thing.”
From then on, Slater has devoted himself fully to particular groups. Other than kickers, punters and lengthy snappers, there isn’t one other participant within the NFL with as slender a spotlight.
While each different participant within the NFL who performs on particular groups devotes perhaps quarter-hour to particular groups and primarily practices on offense or protection, Slater does particular groups drills for the whole size of observe.
“He has his own practice routine,” former teammate Benjamin Watson says. “I have never seen anybody in my 16 years in the NFL who had their own practice routine. He’d be over there doing his drops for kickoff return, his gunner work for punt, his breakdowns for tackles, all on his own. That’s how much trust they have given him.”
Slater made the primary of 10 Pro Bowls and 5 All-Pro groups in 2011. In the latter phases of his profession, he believes he has continued to enhance partly as a result of he has spent extra time engaged on being a particular groups participant than anybody ever.
Others might have been annoyed by not enjoying on offense or protection. Slater just isn’t.
“I realize now this was God’s plan for my career, to play special teams,” he says. “I feel very fulfilled with the career I’ve had, the relationships, the experiences. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Slater has been known as lots of issues by his teammates.
When he was about 3, Slater began carrying glasses for nearsightedness. It wasn’t lengthy earlier than he was in comparison with the geeky character from “Family Matters.” One of his lenses is a detrimental 1.25, and the opposite is a detrimental 1. He wears contacts for video games, however they hassle his eyes.
McCourty remembers lining as much as cowl Slater for the primary time at an OTA observe as a rookie in 2010.
“We get out there at practice, all right,” he says. “There’s no way this guy wearing these big glasses is going to do anything. Then he ran by me in a hurry. I remember going back to the huddle saying, ‘Who is that dude?’”
Slater isn’t like most of his teammates. He has no tattoos or piercings. He shaves his head as a result of if he didn’t, he says he’d appear to be George Jefferson (Slater additionally makes references extra more likely to resonate along with his dad and mom than his contemporaries).
He received’t do social media as a result of he believes it’s unproductive and detrimental. His musical tastes vary from gospel to Motown to Disney — he hears lots of the latter with 4 youngsters beneath the age of seven. And when a teammate performs a rap tune with phrases that have been thought of offensive in one other time, Slater offers him a glance.
“I’ve always felt different, and I’m comfortable with it,” says Slater, who has some gravel in his voice that belies an harmless face. “The guys here have accepted me for who I am. I feel I’m called to carry myself a certain way, and it’s a little different from what the world deems OK. But the beauty of it is I can find common ground to stand on with guys who are totally different from me and living totally different lives and value different things.”
The double which means is ideal.
Like the stone, Slater is strong as nature permits and uncommonly sturdy. Special groups gamers sometimes don’t final, however Slater is 36 years outdated and has not missed a recreation since 2017.
As Belichick informed his workforce in 2020, Slater is somebody everybody can study from — despite the fact that Slater’s knowledge appears to return from one other realm.
He grew to become The Professor the way in which most professors do, by studying from others. His father, head coach and former quarterback have been particularly instrumental.
“I’ve learned more football from Bill Belichick than I thought possible,” Slater says. “Situational football, dealing with teammates, late-game execution, preparation, you name it. I’m someone who thought I had a good understanding of what the game required and how to approach it. But Bill is master class. There is no one like him when it comes to overall understanding of the game of football, and that includes history. Who I am as a player in a lot of ways can be directly correlated with who he is as a coach.”
Brady strengthened lots of the classes Slater discovered as a baby watching his father. The quarterback confirmed him, peer to look, find out how to respect the sport and recognize the enjoyment it brings. There have been classes about competitors and sacrifice. Through Brady’s instance, Slater discovered to expertise success with humility and gratitude, and to keep up perspective. There have been recommendations on taking higher care of his physique and making ready for weekly challenges extra effectively.
“I can’t say enough about the impact Tom’s had on me professionally and personally as well,” Slater says. “I consider myself very blessed to have played with him for 12 years.”
But it has not been one-sided.
“As much as I’ve impacted him, he’s impacted me,” Brady says. “It’s me seeing him and him pushing me to be my best. … He’s held everyone accountable to a very high level of success and discipline. He does everything the right way. He’s enthusiastic, consistent, and he brings a positive attitude to work every day.”
When Patriots are inducted into the workforce corridor of fame, they’re given crimson coats. Former teammate Kyle Van Noy, who is aware of find out how to make Slater squirm, calls him “Red Coat.”
Slater can be even much less comfy if somebody known as him “Yellow Jacket.” But sometime, he may put on one as an inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Not that he would ever acknowledge the chance.
“I’ve never viewed myself as anything other than a guy who’s scrapping and clawing and trying to find my way,” he says. “Hall of Fame, that’s for other folks to talk about and think about.”
After a victory, the Patriots collect in a circle within the locker room and one voice rises.
“How do we feel about this big win?”
The others reply, “Ahhhhhh yeah!”
The one voice belongs to Slater.
Then he offers what Watson calls a “sermon,” preaching in regards to the recreation, the challenges forward and the way all of it pertains to life. Slater may take a warning from his coach about being complacent and construct on it, veering into how complacency can seep into relationships, fatherhood and duties away from soccer.
His teammates voted him captain for the primary time in 2011, and he has worn the C in every of the final 11 seasons. To him, it’s greater than a nominal title.
“When I look back at my career, I think it will be one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had is being a captain for all the years I have been,” Slater says. “I hope I’ve served those guys well and loved them well and know I cared about them beyond the game of football.”
He may not be the most typical kind of chief, however he could also be the simplest kind — one who leads by being himself.
“Matt is just an extremely genuine, heartfelt, caring man,” Brady says. “But he’s a very determined, disciplined, hard-working football player and he’s a very selfless, incredibly talented teammate. You combine all these things and what he adds to a football team is truly one of a kind. He has every trait you’re looking for in a teammate, a friend, a man.”
When Slater was 4 or 5 years outdated, he talked about these in want as his household was leaving church at some point. “People,” he introduced, “need Jesus.”
Even then, he noticed issues others didn’t.
If Slater by no means was given a chance to play soccer, his plan was to return to Calvary Church in Santa Ana, Calif., and change into concerned in ministry. But he believes his soccer life was ordained.
With teammates, he doesn’t maintain again about his religion. There could also be some condescension on this nickname, however principally, there’s reverence.
About 9 years in the past, Slater inspired McCourty to go to chapel extra typically. Eventually, McCourty determined to get rebaptized along with his spouse, Michelle, at a convention by Professional Athletes Outreach. After the McCourtys made declarations of religion, they fell again into the arms of the Slaters in a resort pool.
“It was phenomenal to have them be the ones who baptized us because they had been so instrumental in our walk with God,” McCourty says.
Slater has addressed many teammates, pals and acquaintances as “My Guy.” They, in return, name him “My Guy.” But it’s extra like “My Guy!”
“It’s about the energy he gives off,” McCourty says.
When Slater smiles, it’s onerous to not smile again. When he laughs — it’s a hearty, deep giggle — he hardly ever laughs alone. If you might be engaged with him, he’s with you fully.
“I’ll meet someone’s girlfriend or wife and I’ll tell them I’m Shahrzad Slater and my husband is Matthew,” his spouse says. “The reaction I get is, ‘Oh, my boyfriend or husband loves your husband. He looks up to him so much and appreciates him so much.’”
Slater takes an curiosity in each participant within the locker room and sees the great.
“There probably hasn’t ever been a teammate that was a bigger fan of his teammates than Matthew,” Jackie Slater says. “Everybody he’s ever played with is special and he can recognize their special contributions.”
Edelman as soon as stated Slater most likely was the most effective teammate he ever had.
Patriots heart David Andrews has stated he and the opposite offensive linemen name Slater an “honorary offensive lineman.” When the offensive linemen order sandwiches for themselves on journey days, Slater will get one. And he sits with them on the workforce bus.
“I’ve always said at heart, I’m an offensive lineman,” Slater says. “It’s what I learned from my dad about being selfless, being one of the guys, and the group being more important than the individual.”
But that doesn’t imply he’s restricted to hanging with blockers. “He fits in with every group on the team,” McCourty says. “Usually, you have pockets of people who get along. You could put Slate with any of those groups at any time. There’s no one who hasn’t had a one-on-one conversation with Slate or a group conversation where he’s invested time and gotten to know you, your family.”
In a most numerous office, Slater is welcome all over the place.
“Quite honestly, guys don’t care if you wear glasses, if you are a nerd, or if you are a heathen,” Watson says. “If they think they can trust you, that’s what matters. And they can trust him.”
With uncommon imaginative and prescient, you possibly can see the punt return unfolding. You can learn the intentions of the jammers and visualize the shortest distance to the return man. From the nook of your eye, you possibly can acknowledge the place the blockers on the opposite facet of the sphere are heading. As you close to the ball service, you possibly can survey the house round him and determine the most effective angle to make a deal with.
And there’s extra with uncommon imaginative and prescient, way more.
In the autumn of 2020, Slater and his spouse adopted a fifth-grade class at William D’Abate Elementary School in Providence. Once every week, Matthew learn with the boys and Shahrzad learn with the ladies. One of the kids was just a few years behind the place he was alleged to be in studying skill. When Matthew known as on him to learn initially, the coed struggled. But Matthew saved calling on him and dealing with him. By the tip of the varsity yr, the coed was volunteering and studying with confidence.
Slater had seen the potential in him and helped carry it out.
About seven years earlier, one among Slater’s gifted younger teammates was struggling on the sphere as a result of he wasn’t residing proper off it. Slater met with him one-on-one each week for greater than a yr. They talked about priorities, temptations and self-discipline. Slater requested him to consider the place he had been and the place he was going. Eventually, the younger participant modified his methods and began excelling on the sphere.
Slater recognized the participant’s issues and promise, and he helped the participant transfer away from one and towards the opposite.
Slater views the chance to be knowledgeable athlete actually as a chance to do one thing else.
“Football,” Slater says, “is a vehicle to connect with people and do ministry to love people.”
Everything that has occurred to him, he’s sure, is a present. But it’s not his to maintain.
That’s why he and Shahrzad shaped the Slater Family Foundation, which promotes neighborhood and particular person well being and wellness. It’s additionally one of many causes he nonetheless wears a helmet. He nonetheless has alternatives to do what he calls “kingdom work” due to his platform as a New England Patriot.
For a dozen years now, Matthew has been telling Shahrzad that his enjoying days might finish any day. The indisputable fact that he believed it’s why his profession has gone on and on. But he’s within the deep winter of his soccer life. His youngsters want their father an increasing number of. Shahrzad put her profession as a doctor on maintain for her husband, and ultimately she must return to her calling. And as a soccer participant, Matthew might be previous his expiration date.
He envisions his future in pastoral counseling.
But for now, there are kick returners to wrap up and slam down, and there are teammates to hug.
Why is he being in comparison with Taylor and Brady?
Why didn’t his soccer life finish in 2007? Or in 2008, 2009 or 2017?
Why is he My man?
Rare imaginative and prescient, that’s it.
(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photographs: Elsa, Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)