Matt Slauson brings the drama. The 6-foot-5, 316-pound offensive guard was taken in the sixth round of the draft this year, and is known for using eye black like war paint on game day in Nebraska.
But he comes from a family so tight-knit it could seem like something out of pioneer lore, where each of the parts fits together and makes the other whole.
Growing up in Oregon, Slauson watched as his older brothers, Chris and Nick, twins, set records at the state swimming meet. Chris went on to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, but Nick’s victory was more poignant given the fact that an injury to his brain at birth forever changed his path.
“He’s a great inspiration to me,” Matt said. “All his teachers said he’d never be able to go to school or have a job.”
Instead, Nick was setting marks in varsity competition for Sweet Home High School. Matt first noticed the void when Chris went to college. Things just weren’t right with Nick home and Chris away and so busy he didn’t have much time for visits a plane ride away.
His dad Rob and mother Nancy, who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 10 years earlier, decided to look for work in Colorado, and when Rob found a job at a local high school they jumped.
“It’s always hard to pick up and move and leave friends, but that just shows what a bonded family they are,” Jets coach Bill Callahan said.
Matt attended the public schools there and played football. His brother Nick started to work, something that had seemed a distant dream when he was born. And that’s when then-Nebraska coach Callahan happened upon an unheralded guard who was toying with playing for Air Force.
“He just fit the profile of what we were looking for in a player,” Callahan said. “…I think we were his only major school.”
(Here’s audio from Slauson on the chances Callahan has taken on him, twice now)
Callahan noticed Slauson’s speech impediment, and watched over the years as the guard slowed down his sentences to make the stutter less of a hindrance. The better Matt knows someone, the less it seems to happen.
It certainly wasn’t a problem on the field.
Even now, Slauson visits kids in his father’s district who face the same issue, and now he can tell them that it won’t lock you out of the NFL.
“That’s the stuff that Matt really enjoys doing,” Rob said.
With Chris graduated and Matt in Lincoln, Rob applied for a job as principal of Lincoln Southwest, a newer high school near the University. The family moved again in his sophomore year, and Matt’s little sister, Allison, decided to apply to UNL as well.
They were in Lincoln on draft day this year, watching the ESPN at a local restaurant with hundreds of diners who became instant Slauson supporters when they learned he was there.
“The moment was unbelievable,” Rob said. “We’d all gotten a little frustrated because we’d been sitting there for quite a while… As we saw the Jets come closer we thought, ‘That’s weird,’ because we knew Bill Callahan had talked to Matt and his agent. It flashed, ‘Matt Slauson guard from Nebraska’ and the place went crazy, it was just bedlam.”
Jets coach Rex Ryan approved the Slauson pick based on the strength of Callahan’s recommendation.
“He’s strong, he’s physical, he has a quickness for a big man,” Callahan said. “He still has a long way to go yet — all the guys that first come in do.”
As for the rest of the family, they won’t be house-hunting in Florham Park. Lincoln has become their home. Nick works in the kitchen of Buffalo Wild Wings and drives to work every day.
As for the eye black, Slauson said he understands NFL rules won’t let him carry on the tradition. With that in mind, he’s planning a tattoo for the wide canvas of his back to match the art on arms. It’s pretty valuable real estate, wide and strong, and Slauson wants something beautiful there.
“I know I’m going to walk in and the artist will start drooling,” Slauson said.