Longtime New England Patriot Matthew Slater has built an 11-year NFL career by chasing down kick returners faster than anyone in the league.
In fact, he’s been so effective for the Patriots that he earned trips to the Pro Bowl as a special-teams ace for seven straight seasons from 2011 to 2017, and was named first-team All-Pro on four different occasions. He’s been the special teams stalwart for three different Super Bowl champions. An astounding 131 of his 145 career tackles have come in that all-important third phase of the game. Special teams is too often overlooked, but New England’s dynasty very well may have been no dynasty at all without his efforts.
“One thing I learned when I came to New England was that championship teams need championship-caliber role players,” Slater said last year on the Sports Spectrum Podcast.
Slater has been just that and more during his 11 seasons in New England. In many ways, Slater has perfected the gunner position on special teams. Whether it’s laying a hit on the returner or downing the ball in the red zone, no one runs the race faster, splits double teams better, or ruins returns more often than him. He certainly has the hardware to show for it.
But there’s an even more important race in Slater’s life that he runs with perseverance every day, placing his hope in an infinitely greater prize.
“What we do on the football field, who we are in life, how we lead at the home, how we deal with our families, it’s all a reflection of what God is doing in our lives and how He’s worked on us and how, ultimately, who we are comes down to what He’s done,” Slater said on the podcast.
For much of Slater’s life, he stood in the shadows of his Hall of Fame father, Jackie Slater. Jackie spent 19 seasons as a standout offensive tackle from 1976 to 1995, all with the Rams, and he taught Matthew plenty about the game of football. Yet even more, Jackie taught his son about God.
“My dad was the one who shared Christ with me, and ultimately, that’s impacted every decision in my life,” Matthew said on the podcast. “It’s impacted every experience in my life. It’s changed my life entirely. And I can’t thank my dad enough for his commitment to, No. 1, his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and secondly, to our family.”
Last year, Slater spoke about the indescribable salvation God has given him:
Slater has sought to make his relationship with Christ the center of his life, whether in football or whether in his own house with his wife and two children. His teammates and coaches noticed his calming leadership in the locker room, and in 2011 (his fourth in the league) he became the special-teams captain. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is often reluctant to open up to the media — not the case when discussing Matthew Slater.
“He’s tremendous,” Belichick recently told ESPN. “His attitude, his work ethic, the example that he sets, the way he interacts with his teammates in a really good way. I don’t know that a player could do any more than what he’s done for us in that role for the last several years. He’s embraced his role on the team, he’s been very good at it and he makes other players around him better. I think that’s a great compliment to him and the job he does. He’s smart, he’s well prepared, he works hard, he has good skill, good talent, he’s tough, he’s a good playmaker for us. I could go on about him all day.”
Slater was a fifth-round draft pick by the Patriots in 2008. He has caught one pass in his career. He’s six feet tall, 205 pounds and 33 years old. He’s often thought about quitting football and entering ministry. Yet he sacrificed stardom, embraced his niche and grasped at the promises of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
Now 11 years and seven Pro Bowls later, Slater is gearing up for his 12th season in a Patriots uniform, knowing his ultimate worth is in Christ.
“My identity is not as a football player,” Slater said on the podcast. “… The Lord has reminded me this year that, ‘You’re My son, and that’s the most important thing. Everything you do, you act with that in mind. You’re My son and I’ve got you covered.'”
Slater and the Patriots will open the NFL season at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers at 8:20 p.m. ET Sept. 9. Slater will be out there, racing to tackle the kick returner even as he remains firmly planted in Christ.
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