That was the initial reaction from Matthew Slater when informed Sunday that he is the longest-active New England Patriots player.
Or, when reminded.
It is understandable in either case for the No. 153 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. Slater found himself taken minutes after Florida State defensive tackle Letroy Guion and minutes before Montana outside linebacker Kroy Biermann. His position, which had been anywhere from wide receiver to kick returner to defensive back at UCLA, an enigma to most.
No longer is that the case.
“I have an abundance of gratitude to be in the position that I’m in now,” Slater said during his pre-training camp video conference with reporters. “I’ve learned from some great men over the years. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have been around some tremendous leaders who have taught me a lot of lessons and leadership and have really shown me the way. They’ve shown me how to treat people, how to be professional, just how to approach the game of football. Because I’m in a position now to be the longest-tenured player on this team, I want to make sure I go about it from a place of gratitude.”
Slater, who will turn 35 in September, has amassed eight Pro Bowls and six All-Pros as a member of New England’s special teams. The upcoming season will mark his 10th as a captain.
It will mark his first without quarterback Tom Brady and kicker Stephen Gostkowski nearby in the locker room.
But tenure is only part of the equation.
“I want to be able to use my experience, my wisdom and pass it along to the younger generations,” added Slater. “I want to encourage. I want to uplift my teammates and empower them to go and do even greater things than I’ve been able to accomplish professionally. So, I’m extremely excited and humbled that I have this opportunity.”
The 2008 Patriots draft class that Slater was a part of gave way to a pair of NFL coaches in former Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo and former San Diego State quarterback Kevin O’Connell. It also gave way to a combined 350 career games.
Slater is the last still adding to his share. Thus far, he’s accounted for 173.
“I thank God every day for preserving my body, preserving my mind and allowing me to still be doing what I’m doing,” Slater said. “And it’s my prayer that I would have a positive impact on my teammates. When they think of me 10, 15, 20 years down the road, I hope that they think of the relationships that we had. I hope they remember Matthew Slater, the man, more than they remember Matthew Slater, the football player. And I hope that they feel like I was someone that was in their corner, encouraged them and pushed them to be greater.”
Slater reached a two-year contract extension with New England in the days before free agency opened in March.
“I’m happy to serve. I’m happy to be here. I’m thankful,” he said. “I still feel like I have to earn my way and earn the trust of my teammates. That starts with hard work, but that also starts with showing them that I care about them as men and I care about the trajectory of their lives moving forward beyond the game of football.”