This year, he’ll be kicking for the Carolina Panthers — and his late brother A.J.
An undrafted rookie out of Virginia Tech in 2018, Slye was thrust into a prominent and potential game-determining role when the Panthers placed veteran kicker Graham Gano on injured reserve on Friday.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera
said the team signed Slye “on a whim” in early August after Gano experienced re-occurring pain in his plant leg during training camp. Slye was brought in as a short-term fill-in while Gano recovered.
But Gano never did.
Slye took advantage of his opportunity by making 7 of 8 field goals during the preseason, including all three attempts from beyond 50 yards. His only miss was a 48-yarder that was blocked because of a protection breakdown.
“It wasn’t what I was expecting coming in here,” Slye said, knowing that Gano was an established kicker who’d missed just three field goals for Carolina in the past two seasons.
But Slye quickly shied away from any praise.
He said all of that should be directed toward his brother A.J., a former Division III linebacker at Salisbury who died in 2014 after a 14-month battle with acute myeloid leukemia, a rare form of blood cell cancer, at the age of 20.
It was a devastating blow for Joey, who viewed A.J. as his closest friend. They talked sports continuously and dreamed one day of playing together in the NFL.
On the field he honors his brother by raising six fingers to the sky after every made field goal and extra point. A.J. wore No. 6 when they played together at North Stafford High School in Virginia.
“It gives me the understanding that he’s still there,” Slye said. “I find comfort in that. I like to do it because I want a lot of my recognition to go to him. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. I want my brother to be known for how he fought, what he fought for and the type of person he was.
“I just want to continue his legacy forever.”
Off the field he took part in starting the SlyeStrong#6 Foundation, which is devoted to helping find a cure for adult/childhood cancer.
Slye has some of his brother’s fight in him.
He could have easily given up on his NFL dream after being unable to land a job last year. But he wouldn’t look for a full-time “regular job” because he refused to give up on his dream — and because he promised A.J. he would make it to the NFL.
So he kept on kicking.
“I put all of my eggs in one basket, basically,” Slye said. “I knew other (kickers) were working on their skills. For a lot of guys in the special teams realm, it’s about how long you are willing to keep fighting for that opportunity.”
Slye is known for having a big leg — he made a 59-yard field goal in the preseason with plenty of room to spare — but his accuracy has always been a concern. Though he became the Hokies’ all-time leading scorer after walking on, Slye made only 72.2% of his field-goal attempts — and was 15-for-22 his senior season.
But he’s been accurate in games and practice since his arrival in Carolina.
Rivera said Slye is a true “feel-good story,” but said it’s now time to see if he can produce amid the pressure of kicking in regular-season games, something Slye has never done before.
“With everything he has gone through, he has weathered the storm,” Rivera said. “He’s shown us every reason to be confident in him. But we’ll see. That’s why you play on Sunday.”