Friends questioned Scott Slutzker’s decision. He never did.
One of the top tight ends in the country coming out of Hasbrouck Heights (NJ) High, he chose the University of Iowa ahead of scholarship offers from big-name schools like Notre Dame. Throughout history, not a lot of guys have done that.
It worked out well for him. He earned all-Big Ten honors two times and Indianapolis selected him in the third round of the 1996 NFL Draft. He also met his wife of almost 19 years, Susan, in college.
“I have just the best feelings about my time there. I had so much fun going to school there, playing football there, meeting the friends that I have from there,” Slutzker told HN recently.
These days, Slutzker, 45, lives in Charlotte, N.C. with Susan and their two daughters, Sydney (12) and Sophie (8). He’s in his 13th year selling medical devices for the Medtronic company. He works specifically in the coronary space.
“The part about my job that’s nice is it feels good to help people, like you’re making a positive difference in people’s lives. I really do believe in the products that my company sells. I wouldn’t able to do it if I didn’t,” he said.
It took Slutzker time to figure out what he wanted to do after his football career ended. He followed the advice of his father in law, who was the vice president for a large health care service business, and his grandfather.
“He told me that a good salesman will always have a job,” Slutzker said.
During his NFL career, Slutzker and his wife were figuring out where they wanted to put down roots. Susan grew up in Chicago and he in New Jersey. They knew they wanted to be south of those cold weather climates. Charlotte turned out to be a perfect fit.
They settled down there for good when Slutzker retired from the NFL following the 2001 season. His professional sports career spanned six years.
Despite being the 82nd overall pick in the draft, he ran into immediate road blocks that would remain in place for his entire run in the league.
The Colts drafted tight end Ken Dilger in the second round the year before. He was named to the all-rookie team and would go on to earn all-pro laurels later in this career. They also brought in Marcus Pollard as an undrafted free agent in ’95, and he would enjoy a productive, 14-year career.
Indianapolis, content with Dilger and Pollard, traded Slutzker to New Orleans before the ’98 campaign. That year, the Saints drafted Cam Cleeland in the second round. He caught 54 passes on 88 targets for 684 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie, leaving little space for the other tight ends on the roster.
After two years in the Big Easy, Slutzker went home to play for the Jets. New York drafted Anthony Becht in the first round of the ’00 selection process. Slutzker was again squeezed out and called it a career a year later.
“You don’t want to sound like some sort of crybaby, but I felt somewhat like a victim of circumstances. I could have gone other places and had a much different impact and a much different career. But it is what it is and I enjoyed my time. You deal with what life throws at you,” he said.
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Slutzker considered coaching when his playing days ended. He loved the game and knew it very well. He just couldn’t deal with the lifestyle.
He and Susan were talking about starting a family. He didn’t want to miss time with her and their kids.
“It’s a transient kind of thing, moving from city to city trying to chase the next good job and working 80-90 hours a week,” he said.
Slutzker felt pleased with his time in the game, particularly his five years at Iowa. He finished with 91 catches for 1,195 yards and five touchdowns for the Hawkeyes.
His numbers, which are solid for a tight end, were made more impressive when you consider Iowa’s quarterback situation from ’93-95. He began each season with a new starter, from Paul Burmeister to Ryan Driscoll to Matt Sherman.
“If I had a guy that I came up through the system with, it could have been even better. It was great, though. I really enjoyed it. I think it worked out well for me,” Slutzker said.
People still ask him how he ended up at Iowa. The Hawkeyes had done well recruiting New Jersey. Assistant Frank Verducci, whose father was a coaching legend in the state, played a big role in getting Slutzker to the Midwest. It also helped seeing guys from his area succeeding there.
“Frank did a great job in recruiting me. Dave Triplett was the tight end coach at the time. They really concentrated on me heavily,” he said.
Iowa turned out to be Slutzker’s first official visit. He and his parents felt strongly that it was great place. Scott was especially impressed with his player host, Matt Whitaker, a fellow tight end.
“He wasn’t looking at me as competition. He was wanting to do what was best for me and the school and the team. Everybody was like that. It was just a warm, fuzzy feeling after leaving. And it stuck with me through all of my other official visits, including Notre Dame,” Slutzker said.
He looked forward to visiting South Bend. Upon arrival, he asked Fighting Irish players why they chose Notre Dame and what they liked about it. The only answer he received was because they won. That wasn’t enough.
“It was a hard decision because I knew everybody was going to ask me how I could pass up Notre Dame, but in my heart it was an easy decision,” he said.
Slutzker enjoyed some magical moments in the Black and Gold. He was named the TV player of the game during a tough loss against No. 7 Michigan in ’94 and caught eight passes for 167 yards in a loss against No. 19 Penn State the following season. That latter stood out to him.
He grew up watching the Nittany Lions, the face of college football in the northeast for years. They didn’t want Slutzker.
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“It kind of hurt because they stopped recruiting me late in the process, even though looking back on it, knowing what I know now, it would not have been a great fit for me at Penn State. They really didn’t throw the ball a lot to their tight ends. Their tight ends were more like small tackles. Iowa was a better fit,” he said.
Indianapolis first noticed him during a game at Northwestern his senior season. Colts tight ends coach Tom Batta was watching at the airport during a snowstorm in Chicago when Slutzker dragged a Wildcat defender into the end zone.
“He called up the scouts and said they needed to look at me,” Slutzker said.
He played three sports in high school. He received looks from professional baseball teams before deciding on college football.
Those athletic endeavors along with other high school activities took up a lot of his time. So much so, that he didn’t pay much attention to college sports. He’d never heard of Iowa coach Hayden Fry before being recruited by him.
Slutzker and his family quickly warmed up to the legend from Texas.
“He was such an amazing recruiter because he remembered my sister’s name, my dog’s name. When my family would come visit me at Iowa, he remembered things from when he visited us back in New Jersey. It wasn’t just things that he was told that he had to learn to be able to make the sale on Iowa, it was like he really cared. He is a special man,” Slutzker said.
“The things he’s done for the sport are amazing. Even to this day, when I tell people where I went to school, they are impressed that I played for Hayden Fry.”
Slutzker remains connected with guys in his recruiting class, including Driscoll Bob Diaco, Derek Price and Todd Romano. He’s also in contact with older players like Whitaker, Mike Devlin, Mike Ferroni and Scott Davis.
“It’s one of the nice things about social media. We all go our separate ways, build lives and families. Then the kids get older, you take a breath and have more time to connect. Any of us could be in a room together right now and it would be like we’d just seen each other a week ago. It’s crazy,” Slutzker said.
There is a time when former teammates, friends and family know to leave him alone, however.
“I watch every Iowa game. It’s unusual that I don’t watch. I don’t answer texts or calls,” Slutzker said.