AMES — Immediately after the Iowa State football team’s 21-20 win over Memphis in the Liberty Bowl, wide receiver Matt Eaton knew he was going to have to step up.
Allen Lazard, Marchie Murdock and Trever Ryen were all graduating. Eaton, the Pearl River Community College transfer, would be the lone senior in the wide receiver room in 2018 that got significant playing time in 2017.
The 6-foot-4 Eaton doesn’t know exactly what his role will be on the field, but he does know his leadership role will have to increase. And so far, he’s done that.
“He works as hard as anybody,” receivers coach Bryan Gasser said. “(Sunday), I made a point to the receiving room. We watched his whole tape from the whole entire practice — every single play. Every play he brings it. That’s what he brings to the table. He’s a great leader, he helps those young guys out and he’s a great role model and great example for all those young guys, too.”
Eaton didn’t take the time to bask in his glory as the other receivers were shown how Gasser wants his receivers to play. He used the time to try and better himself.
“It’s just another opportunity to critique myself, as well as the other guys,” Eaton said. “Everybody comes in every day with a purpose of trying to get better. It was an opportunity to grow as a person, grow as a player and be a better leader.”
Eaton recorded 21 receptions for 208 yards and four touchdowns. But he was battling injuries throughout the season. Gasser said this is the first time he’s ever seen Eaton healthy.
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Eaton said he started feeling 100 percent again about a month before fall camp. He credits the training staff and strength and conditioning coach Rudy Wade for getting his knee right.
“My knee and my body are feeling great,” Eaton said. “I’m blessed to be feeling the way that I am and to compete at the level that I am.”
But his own work ethic can’t be undervalued in the process of getting himself healthy. He made sure he was there getting treatment and getting stronger.
“(Work) is just a part of who I am, I can credit that to my parents,” Eaton said. “Both of them are extremely hard workers. It’s an extraordinary opportunity for me to come here and play football and I just try to give it my all every day.”
It’s shown on the field.
“He had a great offseason and he looks as fast as he’s ever looked, as strong as he’s ever looked, really attacking the ball and showing how strong his hands are,” Gasser said. “I have high hopes and expectations for Matt this year. He certainly hasn’t let anybody down through camp.”
Coach Matt Campbell agrees. At media day, the Iowa State head coach said Eaton has had the most impressive fall camp from any receiver.
While Eaton is leading the young receiving corps — Iowa State has seven freshmen and three redshirt freshmen listed on its roster — the young guys are motivating Eaton, as well.
“(They bring) talent and energy,” Eaton said. “That’s one thing I gravitated to when they first got here — I love young energy. I’m boosting everybody up every day because they are talented. They all work really, really hard.”
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