Back in March, before he became a Charger, Rashawn Slater called himself “the best tackle in the draft.”
Still, with an emergence so immediate and complete that on Wednesday he was named a Pro Bowl starter, Slater no doubt surprised some people.
His father was not among them.
“If you eat a bunch of ice cream, you expect to gain weight when you get on the scale,” Reggie Slater explained. “When you prepare, when you look at film, when you put the hours in, you expect to have results. That’s the best way I can explain it with Rashawn.
“He puts in so much work. He’s been blessed to have incredible concentration and focus. He’s been able to get out what he’s put in. Because of his time and devotion, no, I’m not surprised.
“I don’t mean that to sound arrogant. Not at all. Rashawn is just very focused. He’s very goal-driven, always has been. And I’m the one who has issues with ice cream, not Rashawn.”
With that, came a laugh hearty enough to fill the space that separates Southern California from Houston, where Slater returns this weekend to play his first game as an NFL all-star in his hometown.
The Chargers will face the Texans on Sunday about a half hour from the city of Sugar Land, where Slater’s career began at Clements High. He then moved on to Northwestern before the Chargers took him with the No. 13 pick in April.
Slater arrived as the team’s starting left tackle and didn’t miss an offensive snap until he was forced to sit out the Chargers’ 34-28 overtime loss to Kansas City last week after testing positive for COVID-19.
Reggie described his son being drafted by the Chargers as “a great scenario.” He said he never has met coach Brandon Staley or hardly any of Rashawn’s teammates but added that he doesn’t need to in order to appreciate the situation.
“Every parent wants to see their child be happy,” Reggie said. “Rashawn seems very happy. He was fortunate to be drafted by a team that’s going up, with great players surrounding him and a great coach. He fits in.”
Slater has fit in, to be certain, seemingly as much as he has stood out. From a sparkling debut during which he neutralized Washington’s Chase Young to a months-long run of productive consistency, Slater has been one of the league’s top tackles.
He has graded out as the Chargers’ second-best all-around blocker — according to Pro Football Focus — behind center Corey Linsley, a 2020 All-Pro who also just made the Pro Bowl.
“From Day 1, we could see Rashawn was ready to go in and play,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “That’s rare. Just the way he approaches the game — his whole makeup — lends itself to a guy that you’re gonna be able to rely on for a long time.”
Slater has given up only four sacks and 22 pressures in 558 opportunities, helping Justin Herbert have a season impressive enough that he, too, was named a Pro Bowl starter.
Similar to any reasonable Chargers fan, Reggie has marveled at what the team’s second-year quarterback has achieved so quickly. The difference is that he has often needed replays to catch Herbert’s show.
“Once the ball’s snapped, I watch Rashawn,” Reggie said. “I won’t lie to you. I’m looking directly at Rashawn. When the crowd reacts, my eyes kind of move around. Yeah, I’m probably the only one not watching Justin.”
Reggie and his wife, Katie, have attended most of the Chargers’ games this season. He has posted several photos on social media, typically wearing his son’s No. 70 jersey.
Just like Rashawn, the Slaters started their season in Washington, in Week 1, when the Chargers won 20-16. Reggie called that day “pretty darn cool” before adding, “That’s probably an understatement.”
“It was wild,” he continued. “My wife and I couldn’t believe that we were sitting there watching our son perform professionally on that stage.”
Reggie characterized the afternoon as “role reversal,” even though Rashawn was too young to remember watching his dad play pro ball.
Reggie, now 51, spent eight seasons in the NBA as an undrafted, grinding, undersized 6-foot-7 power forward. He played for seven teams, averaging 5.6 points and three rebounds.
He tried to get his oldest sons, R.J. and Rashawn, into basketball, but said they were instead “enamored” with football. R.J. eventually went to the Air Force Academy, where he was an offensive lineman.
Rashawn gave up basketball in middle school despite having a quick first step and the athleticism that suggested he could succeed in the sport. His love for football and everything the game presented, Reggie said, was simply too strong.
“In high school, most kids are looking at Marvel or DC movies,” Reggie said. “This guy’s watching film on footwork.”
That commitment never waned, even as Slater’s Clements High teams were going 3-27 during his time there.
Slater called his father “a fantastic role model” and credited him with handing down an unrelenting work ethic and the ability to deal with adversity. Asked what he gave his son, Reggie joked, “A great smile?”
Then he said: “It’s all Rashawn. I can’t say that enough. The kid just works. This is all his doing.”
Slater said he grew up a Texans fan in a household that mostly rooted for the Denver Broncos. Now, on the day after Christmas, he’ll experience a homecoming that the NFL couldn’t have drawn up any better.
“It’s a really cool opportunity,” Slater said, “something I’ve looked at since I got drafted and saw the schedule.”
Reggie said he has been to NRG Stadium for rodeos and concerts, but Sunday will mark his first Texans home game.
Then again, for the Slaters, this isn’t a Texans home game at all. It’s a Rashawn home game, one that won’t require Mom and Dad to pass through any TSA checkpoints.
“It’s great because it saves us on plane tickets,” Reggie said, laughing again. “It gonna be exciting. I couldn’t be more proud to see him out there, not just participating but playing well and for a team on the way up.”
It has been a season of ascension, for the Chargers and Slater, “the best tackle in the draft” becoming one of the best tackles in the league.