New football signee Matt Eaton finally finds true home


Maddie Leopardo/Iowa State Daily

Head football coach Matt Campbell introduces incoming junior wide receiver Matthew Eaton at the Cyning Day Celebration at Sukup End Zone Club on Feb. 1. 

Austin Anderson

Matthew Eaton hadn’t been in Ames for more than a few weeks when he walked into the Bergstrom Football Complex one cold night in January.

It was midnight. The coaches were still there, they’re always there Eaton said, but he was the only player in the building.

He went down to watch film, like he often does, maybe of NFL players Amari Cooper or Antonio Brown, fellow wide receivers who are much smaller than Eaton. Or maybe it was of his favorite player, AJ Green, who with a slight squint, offers an eerily similar physical frame to the 6-foot-4 205-pound recent Iowa State football signee, Eaton.

Eaton has been on campus at Iowa State for about four weeks and Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell said he doesn’t know if there’s been a day that he hasn’t seen Eaton at the football complex working with quarterback Jacob Park or catching balls out of the jug machine.

“He’s driven to be elite,” Campbell said. “That’s what you want.”

Iowa State is new to Eaton, despite being committed to the Cyclones since last May, but moving to new places isn’t, and that’s part of the reason he said he has that drive to be elite.

When he was in eighth grade, Eaton left his hometown in Virginia to move to Guam because his dad was in the Navy.

He said the tropical island is beautiful. The food is wonderful and so are the people there.

“It’s a great place to go visit,” Eaton said.

A great place to visit, yes, but Eaton didn’t just visit. He lived there for three years, through his sophomore year of high school, a time when a lot of high school football players are starting to get looked at by colleges.

But no college recruiter was going to make a trip to an island that is closer to Japan than it is the continental United States to see a 16 year old compete against less-than-stellar competition.

“It was huge [as a setback for recruiting],” Eaton said. “But I think I needed it because if not, I probably would have not been as hungry as I was. I think I needed to be over there to develop my strong work ethic.”

Eaton wanted to get out of Guam so recruiters could see him, and he did when his family moved to Mississippi before his junior year of high school.

Colleges came calling just as he had hoped and Eaton committed a week before National Signing Day to be a Temple Owl during his senior year of high school.

Eaton majored in English when he got to Temple and off the field had dreams of competing in slam poetry competitions. On the field, he redshirted his first year and only played in six games during his redshirt freshman year. He didn’t get significant playing time but he was around guys who went on to play, and start, in the NFL like Tavon Young with the Ravens and Robby Anderson with the Jets.

He saw their work ethic and what it took to succeed but realized again that the place he was in wasn’t the best place to be successful. He transferred away from Temple.

He wound up back in Mississippi near his family at Pearl River Community College. That’s where he broke out as a football player on the field, but off it, he was just trying to get out.

“For that whole year, it was very challenging to stay focused on the rest of my career and just getting myself out of that situation,” Eaton said.

His desire to get back to the Division I level turned into making Eaton one of the best wide receivers in all of junior college. ESPN ranked him as a 4-star recruit and the No. 4 wide receiver in the country coming out of a junior college. 

“I’m grateful for junior college,” Eaton said. “It allowed me a platform to get [to Iowa State].”

The platform he has now is to contribute to a wide receiving corps that Campbell said wasn’t “complete at times last year.”

Iowa State has All-Big 12 receiver Allen Lazard but Campbell said teams can take him away and that’s where Eaton will contribute.

“You get a guy like [Eaton] who is a No. 1 [wide receiver] too,” Campbell said. “He’s a No. 1 type receiver in your offense. Now all of the sudden, where are you going to spin the coverage?”

Iowa State got a “No. 1” receiver who, as a former English major, has personal poems in the note section of his phone, and goes into the football complex to watch film at midnight.

“I try to stay in [the Bergstrom Football Complex] as much I can,” Eaton said. “If I could, I would probably live here.”

It appears a guy who kept wanting to get out his old situations to chase a better future in football, finally found a place he doesn’t want to leave.