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Originally published Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 1:49 PM

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Seattle native and lifelong angler Mark Yuasa blogs on fishing in the Pacific Northwest.

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Jets rookie Slauson succeeding despite stutter

Blocking big defensive linemen is easy for Matt Slauson, especially compared to the trouble a simple sentence can give him.

AP Sports Writer

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. —

Blocking big defensive linemen is easy for Matt Slauson, especially compared to the trouble a simple sentence can give him.

The New York Jets' sixth-round draft pick has spoken with a stutter for as long as he can remember, and it caused him some teary moments while growing up.

"Kids are vicious," Slauson recalled during rookie minicamp. "They will rip you apart no matter what. That's just what they picked. Once I put on a helmet and pads, they didn't make fun of me anymore. It was weird."

Slauson, a three-time All-Big 12 selection at Nebraska, has refused to let the speech problem hinder him. Not when he's in front of cameras in the locker room, and certainly not when he's on the field.

"That's where his mom and I are so proud of him," said Slauson's father, Rob. "One day, he came home from school and the kids had been picking on him because he was so big and they were making fun of him for stuttering. He was crying and his mom was holding him and she said, 'Honey, you have to trust me. Someday, this will all be behind you and everybody's going to wish they could be like you.'"

That was difficult for Matt Slauson to believe, particularly when he was struggling to read as a young boy and stumbling over his words while desperately trying to communicate like everyone else.

"There were tough times," he said. "I would come home crying, but that's all over with now."

Just as his mother, Nancy, told him.

"I don't know if they had some sort of crystal ball that told them that," Slauson said, "but, here I am."

Slauson found strength in his older brother, Nick, who suffered a prenatal injury when his oxygen supply was briefly obstructed when he was in his mother's womb along with twin brother, Chris. Despite his disabilities, Nick Slauson became a state champion swimmer who competed in the Special Olympics.

"I mean, this kid is handicapped," Matt Slauson said. "What do I have to worry about? I mean, I'm moaning about a speech problem? Big deal. This kid goes out there and fights everyday and is an absolute stud."

The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Slauson was drafted by the Jets as an interior lineman, and has practiced mostly at right guard during rookie camp. He has also been reunited with Bill Callahan, the Jets' offensive line coach who recruited Slauson when he was the head coach at Nebraska.

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"When he fell to us in the sixth round, I thought that was a real good break for us," Callahan said. "He's a good player and brings size, strength and power to the position. He still has a long ways to go, but looking at all the things he brings to the table, I thought that was a real plus when we selected him."

Slauson is happy to be back with Callahan despite comments he made last year, saying he felt as if he were a "side of beef" who was "used and abused" while Callahan was Nebraska's coach.

"That was just me being a young, immature kid and just making stupid comments," Slauson said. "I know deep down in my heart that Coach Bill Callahan is the best offensive line coach there possibly is."

Callahan, fired by Nebraska in December 2007, said he hadn't heard the comments and holds nothing against Slauson.

"Really, that's not relevant right now," Callahan said. "I'm happy for him and I've moved on from my past."

And so has Slauson, whose family moved from Sweet Home, Ore., to Colorado Springs, Colo., when he was 17. He spent a year at Air Force Prep School before the family moved to Nebraska.

Cornhuskers offensive line coach Dennis Wagner was impressed while watching film of Slauson and persuaded Callahan to give the big guy a chance. Slauson fit right in and started as a freshman, but with that came something he hadn't considered before coming to Nebraska: lots of interviews.

"I thought, 'Oh, man. What am I going to do? They don't know I have a speech problem yet,'" Slauson recalled. "I decided that I was just going to do it and if they don't know I've got a stutter by now, they will in a minute and so will the rest of Nebraska, and if they don't like it, then, too bad."

Slauson quickly became a fan favorite in Lincoln with his eye black spread menacingly under his eyes and down onto his cheeks. He also would show up to games wearing a cowboy hat and boots.

And then there were the colorful tattoos on his arms, including the one that wraps around his right arm. It's a C-17 bursting through a huge American flag in honor of his older brother, Chris - Nick's twin - a captain in the Air Force running flight operations in his second deployment to the Middle East.

"Chris posted on his Facebook page: "I fly jets and now Matt is one," Rob Slauson said with a chuckle.

"When the Jets called, I instantly thought of my older brother, Chris, because that's all he's wanted to do is fly," Matt Slauson said. "And, now I'm on the field flying with the Jets. It's just awesome."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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