Matthew Slater's entire professional career has been spent in one place – Foxborough, Mass. But long before he was a Patriots captain, a Pro Bowler and the guy breaking down the huddle after games, Slater was a California kid.
His dreams of following in his father, Jackie Slater's, path towards an NFL career may have come true in New England, but they were born in Los Angeles.
While preparing for Thursday Night Football on a short week in the NFL is always a challenge, the back-to-back games in Los Angeles mean a homecoming of sorts for Slater in more ways than one. Twelve years after he left the UCLA campus, Slater is back at his alma mater, with the Patriots taking up residence for the week in between the Chargers and Rams games.
His Patriots teammates know Slater now – an outspoken leader, a hard worker, a special teams star, a man of faith. He is a product of his time as a Bruin, but this week, they've gotten to see firsthand one of the foundational places that built the man and leader they know today.
"I truly believe some of my most important formative years happened at this university. When I say that, I mean well beyond what happened on the football field," Slater said. "I think I came in here a 17-year old kid and I left with a better idea of who I was as a man and what I wanted to stand for and represent."
No matter how long a player is out of college, the pride runs deep. On any given day, David Andrews and Damien Harris will interject their press conferences with a "Go Dawgs" or "Roll Tide" respectively. So, it's no surprise that within days of being on campus, Slater's teammates began poking fun.
"We were looking around campus for the statue of him, but I guess that's yet to be put up," Cody Davis said. "We joked with him that this is the house that Slater built."
"He doesn't let anybody not hear it," Damiere Byrd said this week. "I think Slate is very happy to be back on campus."
To his credit, Slater is leaning into it.
"The guys are giving me a tough time. I bust out a new UCLA shirt like every day," he said.
As much as players will rib each other over college rivalries, it comes from a place of love. It is clear they understand what this trip means to Slater because it's not just the campus that is important, it's the city.
Jackie Slater spent his entire Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles Rams. His family grew there, watching him dominate on the field and make a name for himself.
Things are different, of course, since Jackie Slater's last game as a Ram in 1995. The team moved and moved back again. The uniforms are different, and the stadium is brand new.
But L.A. is still L.A.
In his 13th year in the league, this significance of this isn't lost on Matthew Slater.
"I think of what my dad did here professionally and how well he represented our family name," Slater said. "This could be the last time a Slater plays football in L.A. We're certainly aware of that."
The restriction in place due to the pandemic mean that Slater is unable to see his dad, mom and brother while on the West Coast business trip, and while Slater knows it's the way the world is right now, it's still disappointing.
His family may not be in the stands on Thursday Night, but when Slater walks onto the field, he will be carrying his name and his family legacy with him in the place where it all began. That alone is something truly special.
"What a joy it's been for me to represent my dad and carry on his legacy as best I can. The game of football has been great to us, and we're very aware of that. We're very thankful for all the experiences, all the relationships, everything that this game has brought us," Slater said. "Certainly, when you think about Los Angeles, it's a special place to my family and I. My parents came here in 1976, fresh out of college … My dad found a way to do something very, very special. We're so thankful for that, and we appreciate football in L.A. No question."