New England Patriots Star Matt Judon Is Cultivating His NFL Career Exactly The Way He Wants: With Positivity

Matt JudonPhoto Credit: Hannah Morgan


Matt JudonPhoto Credit: Hannah Morgan

 At 6’3” and 260 pounds, Matt Judon does not look like the type of guy you’d expect to find puttering around a garden, talking to his plants or playing them gospel music. But appearances, as we all know, can be deceiving.

Sure, Judon goes full-on beast mode on the football field — with a four-year, $54.5 million contract under his belt, the New England Patriots star linebacker kind of has to — but in life, he’s totally a plant-watering gentle giant.

It’s an unexpected twist for one of the NFL’s toughest guys to have a secret soft side — one, truth be told, he makes no attempt to hide. Judon is an out-and-proud plantsman who currently grows roses, four different types of fruit trees, a plethora of peppers (which teammate Lawrence Guy will benefit from once they’re pickled), eggplant, and tomatoes — with which he makes his own homemade salsa — at his permanent home just outside of Dallas. (There was a banana tree, too, but it died when he headed to Boston for the season. His response was to download a farming app so that it would never happen again.) In a perfect world, he would always be tending his garden with a dog named Bur (short for Burberry) by his side. (The dog does not exist — this is just his fantasy.)

And this tough guy with a sensitive side has some wisdom to drop. Growth, he says, isn’t just about watering your plants. What plant success ultimately boils down to — just as it does with success in life — is leading with love.

Matt JudonPhoto Credit: Hannah Morgan

“Sometimes I walk around, playing gospel music, and when [my plants are] blooming, we take photos. I send them positive affirmations,” the 30-year-old athlete declares. “I talk to the grass while I’m watering it, I talk to the dirt, I talk to the soil — and I think it works!”

But why this particular hobby? I wonder. For Judon, the answer is simple: gardening is the ultimate form of self-care.
“For me, self-care is about taking care of yourself and your needs. That means walking around my garden, barefoot, trying to get back grounded to the earth, thanking God for everything he’s blessed me with. It’s taking an inventory of my body, and if something isn’t right, addressing it, meditating on it, taking a day with it,” he confides, noting that mindfulness extends to the small things, like brushing his teeth, getting an IV, and practicing good personal hygiene, as well as how he interacts with others. Sending positive vibes to friends and family makes him, in turn, feel good. “I send texts like ‘Good morning — I was thinking about you’ or ‘I had a dream about you.’ [He dreams vividly, every night, and no dream is the same.] I wish people a good day, a great start to their morning, and after that, I get to the grind.”

Given how much trash-talking Judon does on Twitter, this unflagging positivity is surprising yet, quite frankly, refreshing. Plus, in his opinion, said trash talk isn’t negative. “My smack is kind of just funny talk. I would never put any of my peers down negatively or try to put them out,” he declares. “I’ll be calling them out on stuff all the time. That’s just for fun though in this kind of game, this life, this culture that we have in football. When we’re off the field, we are friends. We’re all guys that, at a young age, had the same goals, the same dreams that we’ve accomplished. Now, we’re at peace, but sometimes we trash talk. It’s all in good fun though, and it’s something I’ve always been good at. I’m one of 10 children — you’ve got to be good at trash talk!”

Matt JudonPhoto Credit: Hannah Morgan

Matt JudonPhoto Credit: Hannah Morgan

But as I said earlier, and as his thriving garden would suggest, he’s also good at positivity. “I was reading a study about life and water recently, and it said that if you take two bottles of water and talk negative to one and positive to another, even though water has no membranes, no memory — it has nothing — the one that you talk negatively to will affect your body and whatever you put it into differently than the one you talk positively to. When a plant isn’t producing fruit, you think, Ah, damn, I did this wrong; I’m just going to talk to it. And then I’ll be like, Well, maybe I did this wrong for you. Let me learn how to work with you. And so, I speak to my vegetables and fruits since that’s what I’m going to consume. If you put positivity in, that’s what you’ll get back. There’s power in the tongue. You read that in the Bible; you can curse or bless things with your mouth. When you first meet someone, you might forget exactly what was said, but you’ll remember if it was positive and how it made you feel. I think plants are affected the exact same way.”

This realization, this power, is the most useful tool in his arsenal, and one that’s helped him evolve as both a person and as a player. “I talk to myself all the time,” he admits, sharing, “I think people have to realize that you talk to yourself more than you talk to anyone else in the world. Even when you’re having a conversation with someone else, you’re still talking to yourself — you think about what you’re going to say in response to something before you even say it. If you say, ‘You didn’t do this, you haven’t done this, it’s too late for that,’ that becomes your reality. You become that situation. All the time I be like, C’mon Judon, you’ve got more, we can do more. What’s the next level, the next goal? My body starts to feel that positivity, and I’ll think, Okay, I can run a little faster, I’m not that tired, I have to make that play.”

He references a particular moment from the 2022-2023 season during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Patriots were down but making a comeback. He was sitting on the bench at the time when strong safety Jabrill Peppers approached him. He recalls his teammate saying, “‘Jude, this is when big players make big-time plays. Are you that player?’ I never answered him. I was thinking in my head, We make those plays all the time; what is he talking about? So, I talked to myself and I said, I’m the best player on this field right now, and then I went out and forced a fumble. That was the kind of play we needed. We ended up not winning the game, but it was an important moment for me, knowing that when you start to talk to yourself like that, other people will start to see it and start to talk to you like that, too. It becomes an aura. It becomes who you are and how you walk around. Nothing is perchance. Encounters with people aren’t through chance. There’s not a lot of stuff that happens from nowhere. Everything is calculated; everything is planned when you really believe in yourself.”

Matt JudonPhoto Credit: Hannah Morgan

Just as he believes that everything happens for a reason, Judon really believes in himself, if you didn’t get that already. That self-motivation led the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native to Grand Valley State in Michigan, where he set the Division II record for sacks, and to the NFL, where he was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. During his five seasons with the Ravens, he received two consecutive Pro Bowl selections and, after joining the Patriots in 2021, received two more.

So, basically, the sky is the limit … as long as he stays strong, centered … and out of people’s way. “I try to live as peacefully as possible, and I try to do the right thing by people,” he tells me. “When I leave them, I want to leave them with a positive encounter — unless I’m on the football field. I never want to be too fancy or upper class so that people feel they can’t talk to me because of my job. I try to be very cool, chill, calm, collected. I’m just trying to do my thing, do normal stuff like everyone else. I just happen to get paid to play football. I’m an athlete, but overall, I’m just trying to be a good person.”

Matt JudonPhoto Credit: Hannah Morgan

I have a burning question for Matt Judon, and it is this: “Why the red sleeves?”

It’s a valid question — Judon has made a thing out of wearing red sleeves (as well as doing a very special sack dance) to every game. Unfortunately, I ask it when he’s got a mouth full of chicken tenders and fries, a post-workout, offseason treat that he’s currently enjoying at the Trophy Chest, a sports bar in Dallas.

He answers after swallowing, explaining, “I wear the red sleeves because when we play at home on turf, I usually get cut up. So, when I was with the Ravens, I could only wear white or black; those were the only alternate colors. When I got to the Patriots, I decided, I’m going to wear sleeves. I always wear sleeves — a hoodie or something — during camp. [Because the Patriots’ colors are red, white, and blue], they just gave me red hoodies, so I kind of stuck with that until first preseason game, when I wore red sleeves. Then the next one, we versus the Eagles, we were away. They didn’t bring me red sleeves; they brought me blue. I didn’t like how that looked, so I stuck with the red sleeves because, on turf, I get so cut up. I mean, my bedsheets would get blood on them from the turf burn. So, I’m definitely trying to prevent that, but also, the red sleeves just stuck, and now I can’t not wear them.”

Admittedly, the sleeves are a vibe, a statement, the kind of thing you can’t ignore. And as much as he says he’s trying to stay out of folks’ way, Matt Judon is not someone that’s easy to ignore … or, for that matter, that you’d want to.

But I am concerned for his sheets, even now. During a season, he says, he gets so cut up that he could be changing his sheets every other night. “I mean, I have some nice sheets, but I don’t want to be changing them every night!” he says.

That’s par for the course when you’re a professional football player; blood and bruising come with the territory. “We go to war every week. Sometimes it’s blood, sometimes it’s cuts, sometimes it’s scratches. We have our battle wounds,” he admits.

Matt JudonPhoto Credit: Hannah Morgan

Judon is only too happy to take a beating for his team as long as he’s taking it for the right reason. And it all goes back to his way of being. Like a pendulum, it’s imperative to find that balance.

“I think the respect that you play the game with is the respect that you take into life. You see people try to take shortcuts or cheat or do dirty stuff in the game of football, and that never works out for them. It’s the same in life,” he points out. “If you put the work in, it rewards you. The same goes for football: if you put the work in, stay consistent every day, if you speak to people how you want to be spoken to and play the game how you would like others to play the game, then everything works out. But when someone tries to lie, cheat, and steal, it comes back on them. It works that way in life, too.”

For his part, Judon is doing everything the right way, but he’s still catching a little bit of flak — not from team owner Robert Kraft, nor from coach Bill Belichick — but from himself, more than anything.

“I believe that nobody is a harder critic on me than me,” he admits.

Matt JudonPhoto Credit: Hannah Morgan

We’ve moved on from gardening and cheat meals to the pressure of playing for the New England Patriots, former and forever team of Tom Brady, whose legacy still lingers at Gillette Stadium and likely always will. (Especially if he finds a way of somehow granting Kraft’s wish of coming out of retirement for a day to officially retire as a Patriot, as many believe he should, including Judon, who says, “I feel like he was always a Patriot, and that would be the right move for him, for his legacy and career, to retire as a Patriot.”)

“The pressure is there, but I embrace that,” Judon confides. “It’s good pressure for me; that’s how I thrive. I had an opportunity to play in one of the biggest professions and leagues ever created, which is pressure in itself. I had the opportunity to start. Then I had the opportunity to be one of the best defensive players on the field. [There are] so many opportunities, and every opportunity that you accept and take on, pressure is going to be associated with it. You have a good year; you have expectations for you to have another good year. You make the playoffs; it takes expectations to win those games. But I embrace it all. I challenge it all, because you can’t say anything to me that I haven’t already thought, or put any pressure on me that I haven’t already put on myself.”

Matt JudonPhoto Credit: Hannah Morgan

And that right there, that is the reason self-care is so important, why growing and cultivating is so important, why having his head right is so essential. “It’s why I train so hard to where, when I’m put in a situation, it’s not the first time I’ve been put in that situation. It’s not the first time I was dog-tired and I had 20 more minutes to go. It’s not the first time where I haven’t felt 100%, but I still have to give 100%. In those ways, I’m ready for whatever. That’s what I signed up for. Every year I don’t turn in my retirement papers, that’s what I’m signing up for. I’m signing up for going out there and putting the best me out there. I’m going to have some people, regardless of what I do, that aren’t going to like me. Or regardless of what I do, they’ll back me, they’re gonna stand with me. I’m playing for all of those people: myself, the consumers, and the critics.”

His tenacity and hard work should not be confused for perfection, though. Judon admits to being many things, but that isn’t one of them — nor would he want it to be. “I still have a lot to learn,” he says. “I’m not perfect. I slip every day; I come up short of glory every day. I’m not the best man in the world, nor do I deserve praise or glory. Don’t think I have it all figured out, because I do not have it all figured out.“

Well, at least he has the plant part down. And that’s pretty much the only seasonal goal he’ll speak to right now. When it comes to what he plans on doing on the football field, Judon very wisely knows when to keep quiet.

“I learned that when you set goals, you set yourself up for failure, so [this season], I’m going to go out there and be the best player I can be. I can ask myself to work as hard as I can. I can ask myself to work tirelessly, and I can ask myself to treat myself good. But when you put a number on it or a certain expectation on it and it doesn’t happen, I think that people just set themselves up for failure. But when I say I can give everything I have, I can do that. I can give everything I have. I just have to adjust for every game plan, go out there, make plays, be disruptive, and just be who I am.”

From where I’m sitting, watching Judon tackle those chicken tenders, that’s a pretty great person to be. Every plant-whispering, vividly dreaming, trash-talking, red sleeve-wearing inch of him. And if that’s not a goal, I don’t know what is.

Matt JudonPhoto Credit: Hannah Morgan