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Slater is a special rookie

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Matthew Slater at Rookie Mini Camp. Photo by David Silverman.

In his four years at UCLA, Matthew Slater did just about everything but play trombone in the Bruins marching band.

Wide receiver. Cornerback. Safety. Gunner. Kick returner. If the Patriots are looking for a player with versatility, they found one in Slater.

The son of NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater, Matthew has been around football since the day he was born. And it's his father's work ethic and respect for the game that Slater took with him to UCLA and now, the NFL.

"The thing that sticks out most in me is the way he worked," Slater said when talking about his father. "It wasn't necessarily the games. The games were great and you get to see that and everybody sees that on Sunday, but I saw the things about my dad that people didn't see: the blood, sweat and tears that he put into this game and how he prepared and the respect that he gave to the game of football. I think that's something he has passed on to me."

Those traits would serve Slater well early on in his career at UCLA, a career that was marked with setbacks from the day he stepped on campus.

The Bruins had high hopes for Slater as a receiver in 2003 but a turf toe injury caused him to redshirt and miss his entire freshman year. In 2005, Slater sustained a stress reaction in his left leg, forcing him to miss the early part of the season.

Then during his junior year, with the Bruins needing depth at defensive back, Slater moved to cornerback. And while he played in all 13 games as a junior, Slater was limited by a shoulder injury. Things got so frustrating that Slater briefly considered giving up football to run track.

Slater reconsidered leaving the football team and that proved to be a wise choice because everything would change heading into his senior season. Slater had been moved to safety – his third position change in four years – but with standouts Dennis Keyes and Chris Horton already ahead of him on the depth chart, Slater thought of another way to get on the field and contribute.

After making his mark on special teams as a gunner in 2006, Slater approached then-UCLA special teams coach Gary DeLoach with the idea of becoming a kick returner. It wound up being the best idea Slater ever had.

In 2007, he averaged 29.0 yards on 34 kickoff returns, finishing first in the Pac10 and 12th nationally. He also returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, which tied him for tops in the country. After three years of playing musical chairs with positions, Slater finally found a home.

It's no secret to Slater that he'll need to make his mark on special teams in the NFL as well. He's listed as a receiver but right now it appears that Slater is primarily going to be a kick returner and gunner for the Patriots. And unlike a lot of players who get drafted, Slater has no problem doing the dirty work on special teams because it's something he got used to at UCLA.

"I know that's something I have experience in and something that I love to do and I'm not sure if everybody feels that same way when it comes to special teams," Slater said. "I know that that's something I'm looking forward to contributing at and luckily I have been around there and I'm looking forward to continuing it in New England. For me, I'm willing to do whatever coach Belichick and his staff and the organization want me to do. I'm just excited to have an opportunity to keep playing football."

To read this entire story, check out this month's edition of Patriots Football Weekly, available on newsstands now.

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