Matthew Slater hoped to at least make the Patriots' practice squad after being selected in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
His three ensuing championship rings and 10 Pro Bowls were much more than he bargained for, but when it came to the decision to retire or sign elsewhere in free agency this offseason, the longtime special teams captain felt his work in New England wasn't done yet -- in the locker room or community.
"I never thought that I'd have these opportunities, but God has really blessed me, and I feel like he's done that not so that I can just bless myself and my family, but so that we can help other people," Slater said Wednesday after re-signing with the Patriots for a 15th season.
"My family and I are passionate about the ways that we give back. We're passionate about building relationships in the community, helping others around us, and doing it the right way. So I think with the responsibility of playing in this league for 15 years, you incur other responsibilities off the field. And I'm trying to be a good steward of the opportunities and responsibilities that the Lord has given me and make sure that I do everything in his name, for his love, and for his people."
Slater had an impact in New England almost instantly, and his philanthropic endeavors evolved over the years into him and his wife, Dr. Shahrzad Slater, founding the Slater Family Foundation in 2020.
His actions and influence have set a good example for younger players coming up after him, and he recognizes the longer he's able to play, the more effectively can use his platform for good.
"I think in order for me to have any sort of platform, have any impact beyond what happens on the field, I still have to be a productive contributing member of this football team," Slater said.
"It starts with that. So my role is to do my job as a football player first and foremost. I see it now at this point in my career, I feel like things have evolved to the point where I do have responsibilities beyond the field, whether it's continuing to cultivate the culture that we have in this place, continue to build relationships, share my experiences with younger players, encourage younger players and their families."
Slater revealed that he would have retired had New England not welcomed him back, but in a time with so much turnover, his consistency and leadership is crucial to the organization.
Having embodied the Patriots culture his entire tenure, he knows maintaining it is bigger than any one person. He's done his part, though, and will continue that at least another season.
"I've tried to step up in my roles over the years as best I can and lead to the best of my ability, play to the best of my ability, and continue to carry on the values and pillars that this place was built upon," Slater said.
"I've been very fortunate in that I've had a chance to do it here for an extended period of time. But again, I just think that that's God blessing me. There's only so much that I have control over and then the rest has really been a gift from God and I'm trying to be a good steward of those gifts. And I'm trying to be a good steward of the opportunities that Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick have given me here. So as far as how I fit in that narrative when you talk about Patriots culture -- that that's not for me to say. I hope I've done my part and held up my end of the bargain with what I've been asked."