More times than not, he’s still the first player to get to the returner.
He has refined his craft to the point that he is considered by some the best special teams player in the NFL; last month, he was named to the Pro Bowl for the second straight year.
“There’s something that sets the elite apart from everybody else, at any position, and to me it’s really a desire and a passion that you have for what you do,” O’Brien said. “Not only understanding it and wanting to be good at it but wanting to be the best at what you do. And the positions he plays are the hard ones, so that’s a credit to Matt.”
“When I talk to my peers, other coaches from different teams across the league, and they come up and say, ‘Did you have Matthew Slater at UCLA?’ I’m excited to talk about him,” Dorrell said.
“I was very proud of what he did at UCLA but I’m even more proud of how he’s established himself with such a great reputation, and also to be recognized as really the best special teams player in the league, that says a lot.
“He’s a self-made man and he did a lot of that on his own because of how hard he works.”
For the father, who didn’t think his son was cut out for the game, who for a long time didn’t appreciate the work done by special teams players, seeing his son’s success is humbling.
“I always knew [special teams] was an important aspect of winning, it was just, in my heart of hearts, I didn’t value it as much as some of the other positions,” Jackie said. “It’s been humbling to watch my son go that route.
“This is the opportunity that he was given to get on the field at UCLA, this is the opportunity he was given to get in a training camp in the National Football League, it’s the opportunity he’s taken advantage of to make one of the best teams in the country, and it’s the opportunity he’s taken advantage of to distinguish himself as one of the best players in the best league in the world.”
Proud of the burden
When Matthew Slater steps onto the football field, it is with the last name of a Pro Football Hall of Fame player on his back.
He is glad he isn’t an offensive lineman, with the burden of playing the same role his father did, with the expectations of playing it at the same level. There was pressure enough when he was younger to be like his father.
But Jackie raised him to be his own man, and on the football field he certainly is.
“It’s hard because, no matter what I do, I’ll always be the son of Jackie Slater,” said Matthew. “But you know what, I’m OK with that. I’m OK with being the son of Jackie Slater because I am the son of Jackie Slater.
“But what I have to remember is I can’t be him, I won’t be him, I just have to be Matthew. He told me that at a young age, and even though at times I may struggle with that, I just have to be me and try to represent the name as well as I can.”
On and off the field, he does.