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Family reunion on the slate

Charitable event draws father, son

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / December 7, 2011
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NORTH PROVIDENCE - The earliest memories Patriots receiver Matthew Slater has of his father’s NFL career are off the field.

Slater remembers being a 5-year-old eager to tag along to watch his father, Jackie Slater, go through his daily workouts. That kind of preparation helped Jackie establish himself as a Hall of Fame offensive lineman with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams.

“I think it’s where I first developed my love for football, was working out with him and seeing him and the way he prepared for the game,’’ said Slater. “That’s what I remember most about his career was the preparation than the actual game and what he put into it.

“I definitely remember those days - and remember them fondly.”

The Slaters shared some of their favorite memories while visiting the Stephen Olney School as part of the NFL Play 60 Super School program yesterday. Jackie Slater flew in from California to participate in the event, which celebrated volunteers and encouraged students to find 60 minutes a day to stay active.

“This is part of being a professional football player,’’ said Jackie Slater. “It’s what I’ve always been taught, it’s what I’ve always taught my son. You have a great deal of support from the community, the people who are coming out and supporting you at the games, you need to be able to support them.

“This was a slam dunk for me. I know it was for him. The Kraft family has been historically great in the community. I know this is great for everybody.’’

Jackie Slater joked with students that many might mistake Patriots offensive lineman Donald Thomas for his son, instead of Matthew Slater, who is 6 feet and 200 pounds. But through working out, Matthew went from a college career at UCLA to a career in the NFL.

“To me, it’s been amazing,’’ said Jackie Slater. “When he told me he wanted to be a football player, I thought, ‘Well, I can’t teach you how to do what I do. You’d have a better chance if I could show you how to do what I do, because you’re never going to need these skills.’

“When he had an opportunity to get with some of my former teammates, and he sunk his teeth into it, and he really wanted to do it, I was encouraged by that.

“I didn’t know he would end up being quite as fast as he was, and quite as competitive and quite as driven as he is, but I guess that was part of being around it, and seeing other people compete. He saw a lot of competitors.’’

The examples were the best lessons for Matthew Slater, who believed he might be too small to have an NFL career.

“You always hear bigger is better, especially as a young man,’’ he said. “I thought I was going to be an offensive lineman like my dad, but that didn’t quite work out.

“The more you play the game, the more you realize that size doesn’t matter. Some of the best players in the league, and some of the best players on our team, are not very big.

“It’s about heart and it’s about working hard and doing what you’re asked, and if you do that, hopefully, you’ll have a chance.”

Matthew Slater has been a versatile piece of the Patriots. He is a special teams captain for the first time in his four-year career and last week started at safety for the first time.

Seeing his son as a defensive back even caught Jackie Slater a little off-guard.

“Well, I will admit, I was like everyone else: ‘What in the world is going on?’ But I was delighted to see it,’’ Jackie said. “If you’re playing the game of football, and you’re fortunate enough to be one of those guys who can play in a lot of different places, you just want to play.

“I was real proud of him and happy for him that he had an opportunity to help his team.’’

The two may have been able to spend just a few hours together, but Matthew appreciated the time.

“It’s always great seeing him,’’ he said. “I haven’t seen him in a while, so it’s just great to see him. But also just to support this cause with the kids.’’

Close to clinching

The Patriots can clinch the AFC East with a combination of a victory against the Redskins and a Jets loss against Kansas City Sunday. If the Patriots secure the division title, it will be their eighth in nine seasons. The only other team to win an AFC East title in that time was Miami in 2008.

Comparing notes

Bill Belichick has his share of friends in the coaching ranks, and this week he will face one of his longtime friends in Redskins coach Mike Shanahan.

Over the years, Belichick said he has picked up a few things from Shanahan. When the two have had the chance to visit during training camp, there was plenty to learn.

“We talked about some things,’’ said Belichick, “some of the drills that we were doing, and he kind of asked about, ‘Why are you doing this’ or ‘What was your thinking here?’ And also gave me some input as to how he’d done it and things he’d done a little bit differently.

“Actually, I thought he had some real good suggestions. We talked a little football and so it was good. It’s great to be able to talk to somebody that has that perspective. The Jimmy Johnsons or the Mike Shanahans or people like that, that have been through NFL seasons and have a lot of experiences and can relate to all the different points in time.

“It’s great to be able to exchange ideas with somebody like that. Mike is a really smart guy and he’s had a tremendous career. I think he has a lot to offer in a conversation.’’

While those exchanges can be informative, there is a point where a coach has to hold back - just in case.

“I think there’s always the point when you’re competing with somebody or going to compete with somebody, how far you can really go there,’’ Belichick said. “In Mike’s case, this is a very smart and experienced coach, and I don’t think there’s probably too much that we do that he hasn’t seen.

“I don’t think there are any state secrets there. Likewise, we’ve seen what he’s done. There’s just so much there that it’s a lot to get ready for.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @monwalker.

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