The longest-tenured member of the New England Patriots’ roster, Matthew Slater reported to his 15th NFL training camp on Tuesday. Like the rest of his teammates arriving at Gillette Stadium that day, he went through the same pre-camp routine he has been through numerous times before.
Despite his experience, the 36-year-old admitted that he still gets those first-day-of-school butterflies when stepping in the building after the summer break.
“You almost feel like a kid going back to school after summer vacation,” Slater told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s exciting to be able to see the guys that you work alongside, meeting your friends you’ve been doing this with for a long time, new guys coming into the fold, and just the excitement of a new opportunity, new challenges, and the journey that lies ahead.
“That feeling, it never gets old. I don’t care how long you’ve been doing it, you realize how blessed you are for this opportunity. We’re super excited but we realize we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. Just be ready and embrace that process.”
A fifth-round draft pick by the Patriots in 2008, Slater enters his 15th camp and third straight as the team’s elder statesman. He has appeared in 231 combined regular season and playoff games throughout his career, has helped the organization win three Super Bowls, and has been voted a captain each of the last 11 years.
Slater is synonymous with the Patriot Way, and after signing a one-year contract extension in March set to add to his already legendary résumé as arguably the best special teamer in NFL history. And yet, he still approaches camp with the same mindset he has had ever since his arrival out of UCLA.
“At the core, my mindset has stayed the same,” Slater said. “I think back to my first camp here, it was just about proving that I belong here, I belong in the NFL, and I have what it takes to stick around and contribute and play in this league. At my stage, where I’m at in my career, the approach is the same. Maybe on the opposite end of the spectrum, but I still feel like I have to prove that I belong, I still have what it takes to play in this league.
“And I think throughout my career that has been my approach. I’ve never approached this in a way where I feel like, ‘Hey, I’m comfortable, I’ve got it made, let’s just go out and do what we do.’ I’ve always approached it with a great sense of urgency. I’d say overall my mindset has remained the same or is as close to it as possible over the last 15 years.”
Slater did admit, however, that there is quite a difference between 2008 and 2022 simply due to changes in his personal life. As opposed to his rookie camp, he enters this one as a husband and father of four.
Nonetheless, he made sure to let reporters know that his foundation is still the one that was originally laid 14 years ago.
“My personal circumstances have evolved and changed over the years and my motivation and my ‘why’ has changed a bit,” he said. “But all in all, I’d say I’m still working from the same base, if you will.”