FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots held their kickoff gala, renamed the "Patriots Premiere," on Tuesday evening at Gillette Stadium. One of the highlights was special teams captain Matthew Slater being honored with the team's Ron Burton Community Service Award.
Slater is the 11th player to receive the award, and watching him accept the honor served as a reminder of one of the neat parts about reporting on the same team for an extended period of time: The chance to see a player evolve from on-the-roster-bubble rookie to captain and respected leader.
Few could have seen it coming when he was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft. Those covering the Patriots' draft that year might remember that there was little detail to the team-issued biography for Slater at the time the club selected him.
Was he a receiver? A safety? Maybe a return man? No one really knew at the time, because as Slater said Tuesday night at the Patriots Premiere, it wasn't as if he had a standout career at UCLA. There weren't many stats to digest.
But the Patriots had a vision for him and Slater has since become their "new Larry Izzo" -- a special teams ace whose on-field value complements his standing as one of the team's best locker room guys.
Again, few probably saw this coming on Nov. 30, 2008 when Slater had a kickoff clang off his facemask in a 33-10 loss to the Steelers. It wasn't the only reason the Patriots lost that day, but was probably the biggest and the scene in the locker room after was one that remains unforgettable.
A dejected Slater, with his face staring straight into his locker, was surrounded by reporters behind him who peppered him with questions. He answered each of them, even as teammate Heath Evans walked by and told him he didn't have to.
That had to be the low point of Slater's time in New England. Tuesday represented a high point, a well-deserved one for a player who qualifies as one of the classier players to have come through the Patriots' locker room in recent memory.