Matthew Eaton Jr. and Matthew Eaton Sr.: Growing up in a military family

Brian Mozey

One point. One prayer.

It takes those two items for redshirt junior wide receiver Matthew Eaton Jr. to show his bond with his mother and father.

When Eaton Jr. runs out with the Iowa State football team each Saturday, he’ll find his parents somewhere in the first couple of rows behind the Cyclones’ bench.

Before every game, Eaton Jr. will run to his parents and they will put their hands on his helmet or shoulder pads and pray. They pray to make sure everything goes well and they give the recognition to God.

During the game, most Cyclone fans will hear Eaton Jr.’s parents because they’re one of the loudest in the section. They’re even louder when their son scores a touchdown.

After each touchdown, Eaton Jr. will find his parents in the crowd and point to them to show his appreciation for helping him reach this point in his life.

“I’m really close with my family,” Eaton Jr. said. “We might not see each other all the time, but we’re always there for each other no matter what.”

Eaton Jr. is enjoying the little things in life such as his father being able to watch his football games and enjoying the time together that was nothing but a distant past until Eaton Jr. was 13 years old.

Eaton Jr. was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and was the youngest of seven, but that’s not where he and his siblings would be raised. Eaton Jr.’s father, Matthew Eaton Sr., spent his time as a member of the Navy, which meant the family would move from time to time.

Eaton Sr. said he wanted to do something different than the rest of his friends, so instead of going straight to college from high school, he went to the military. His thought was he was coming in here for at least four years and then would return to go back to school.

“I met up with a recruiter from the military,” Eaton Sr. said. “He was like, ‘Do you want to shoot guns and work with explosives?’ I thought that would be exciting, so I joined the military and went to the Navy.”

During the first part of his career with the Navy, Eaton Sr. was on sea duty, which meant he could be deployed for several months to go fight and his timetable was never known to him or his family. Eaton Sr.’s family moved around the state of Virginia a few times when Eaton Jr. was younger, but they weren’t huge moves.

Everything stayed normal regarding schools and keeping the same friends throughout his childhood. It was hard for Eaton Jr. to not see his father for many months at a time. He knew his father was serving his country, but he also was sad to not see him during the early part of his life.

“It was definitely tough to see my father go out to sea every time,” Eaton Jr. said. “I knew he had a job to do though and I also knew he’d come back each time.”

Eaton Sr. had a hard time leaving his family as well.

“It always crushed my heart when I had to head out and I wasn’t sure when I would be back,” Eaton Sr. said. “Having to say goodbye to my family each time got harder and harder for me as a husband and as a father.”

Eaton Sr. did have an experience of a lifetime traveling around the world. He went to countries like Italy, Greece, France and so many others. He had the opportunity to learn the cultures and grow a better understanding of the world he lives in.

Once Eaton Jr. reached middle school, Eaton Sr. received an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up.

He had an opportunity to reconnect with his children once again. The only drawback to this opportunity was that he would need to live in Guam.

That’s right, Guam. The little island surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and 1,500 miles from the Philippines. Eaton Jr. was going to have his whole life change at the age of 13.

“I hated the idea of going to Guam,” Eaton Jr. said. “I was going to leave my friends and a school I was familiar with to go to a whole new territory. It was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life.”

Once Eaton Jr. reached Guam, it changed his entire life in a positive way. He was able to learn the culture and understand the ups and downs of living in a foreign country. He had the opportunity to try new foods from the island and start forming new friendships with the people on the military base.

But, most importantly, he was able to spend more time with his father.

“When I went to Guam, I was put on shore duty,” Eaton Sr. said. “That means I worked a 9-5 job and I was able to come home and see my family each and every night. I looked forward to the end of the day because that meant I got to see my kids and wife.”

During that time in Guam, Eaton Jr. started to play football for one of the seven high schools on the island. His school played the six other schools for a regular season, but he was able to travel around the Asian countries to showcase his talent.

The two years Eaton Jr. was in high school in Guam, they played at Japan each season for a weekend, and Eaton Jr. said it was one of the best weekends he’s had. He could see another culture and understand another country in the world, while playing the sport he loved the most, football.

Eaton Sr. and his wife, Wendy Eaton, went to Japan to watch him play and at that moment, Eaton Sr. started to realize that his son could potentially play for a college football team.

The Eaton family spent three years in Guam before returning to the U.S., which in Eaton Jr.’s mind was even harder than going over to Guam.

“We knew we were only going to be there for three years,” Eaton Jr. said. “But, the island of Guam grows on you as an individual and you don’t want to leave. I loved my experience in Guam.”

So, from the clear waters and sandy beaches of Guam, Eaton Sr. and his family traveled to Pascagoula, Mississippi. The city was right next to the Gulf of Mexico, but before they even reached the States, Eaton Jr. knew what his football future looked like.

Once Eaton Jr. knew which high school he was going to in Mississippi, he contacted a few of the football players from the team to have a better understanding of what to expect and what positions needed to be filled.

Those players talked to their coach and reviewed Eaton Jr.’s YouTube video of his football highlights. Before they left Guam, Eaton Sr. said he received a call from the coach explaining how bad he wanted Eaton Jr. for his team.

“Matthew [Eaton Jr.] knew what he wanted to do before we understood anything,” Eaton Sr. said. “He did his research and began to work hard, so he would be a dominant football player.”

Before the move to Mississippi, Eaton Jr. worked out every day to stay in the best shape he could. He would do exercises in the 100-degree heat and would be dripping in sweat when he came into the house.

Eaton Sr. was confused by the number of workouts, but Eaton Jr. explained it to him. He said he wanted to run faster than everyone he played in the States and he wanted to be more physical too. The only way to get to that level is by working out and staying in shape.

Eaton Sr. was proud of the steps his son took and encouraged him each day to work harder than the day before. Their bond continued to grow.

Once Eaton Jr. went to Pascagoula High School, he only had his junior and senior years to showcase his talent. During those two seasons, he always had two supporters in the stands each game: his father and his mother.

Eaton Sr. was still on shore duty, so he had the time to come cheer on his son at every football game. He enjoyed seeing his son grow as a person and as a football player.

Once Eaton Jr. went to Temple to play his first two seasons of college football, Eaton Sr. and his wife moved to San Diego, California, to finish out his shore duty responsibilities.

“I would come back home a couple times when they moved to California, but most of the time I was busy with football,” Eaton Jr. said. “I always kept in touch though by calling to make sure everything was good back home.”

Eaton Jr. had a medical redshirt his first year at Temple, but played minimally in his second season. After those two seasons, he decided to play at Pearl River Community College in Poplarville, Mississippi, before going to Iowa State to finish his last two seasons.

Before Eaton Jr. started his first season at Iowa State this year, Eaton Sr. decided to retire from the Navy after 25 years of service and move to a suburb of Los Angeles in April of 2017.

Since Eaton Sr.’s retirement, he now has more free time. That means he makes those trips with his wife to go see Eaton Jr. play whether that’s at Iowa State or somewhere else in the Big 12. He hasn’t missed a game. He’s always excited to see his son play and knows the future looks bright for him this year and next season.

“It’s really emotional sometimes to see your son at this stage of his football career,” Eaton Sr. said. “I’m proud of what he’s done to get to this point and I’m just happy I get to see him play each weekend.”

Eaton Sr. might be proud of his son, but Eaton Jr. is prouder of his father for serving the United States for the last 25 years.

With Veterans Day on Saturday, Eaton Jr. thinks this weekend will be more special because he’s able to pay tribute to his father for all the sacrifices he’s made during his 25 year career. He’s just excited to see his father on Saturday.

“There are no words to describe how proud I am of my father,” Eaton Jr. said. “There’s been a few ups and downs, but I would never change anything that happened in my life because there’s a purpose behind everything.

“It led my family and I to where we are today and I’m happy it brought us here.”