Iowa Football

Ex-Iowa football player Matthew Whitaker is U.S. Acting Attorney General

Ankeny native takes Jeff Sessions' place

Matt Whitaker after his 29-yard touchdown reception for the Iowa football team in its 29-10 win at Iowa State in 1991. (The Gazette)
Matt Whitaker after his 29-yard touchdown reception for the Iowa football team in its 29-10 win at Iowa State in 1991. (The Gazette)

Matthew Whitaker once wanted to go Hollywood, not Washington.

When Whitaker was a tight end for Iowa’s football team in 1991, he said he hoped to become a movie mogul.

“I’ve always loved the film industry,” Whitaker said then. “There’s a lot of money out there in that industry. There’s no reason some of that can’t be mine.”

Whitaker interned for Iowa’s athletic department, doing camera work on its cable television show, “Hawkeye Sports Magazine.”

But Wednesday, immediately after Jeff Sessions was fired by President Trump as United States Attorney General, 49-year-old Ankeny native Whitaker was named Acting Attorney General. He had been Sessions’ chief of staff.

Whitaker played in 33 games at Iowa from 1990 to 1992, with 21 career receptions and two touchdowns. He started for the Hawkeyes in the 1991 Rose Bowl.

“I’ve always felt if I got a chance to play in the NFL I’ll take it.” Whitaker said in 1991. “I’ll give it a shot. But that’s not why I came to Iowa. I didn’t come here to play minor-league football and hope I get drafted. I came here to get an education, get as much school paid for as I can, and then get on with my life.

“I enjoy the sport of football. It’s what I love to do. But football does end some day, if it’s 10 years after the NFL or after my senior year. Football’s going to end, and I’m going to need to function in the world.”

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Whitaker graduated in 3.5 years with a degree in communication studies. He took 21 credit hours one semester, and attended law school during his senior football season.

In 2004, Whitaker was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, a position he held until November 2009. He was a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2014 United States Senate election in Iowa. He finished fourth in the Republican primary.

But as a college junior, Whitaker had ambitions unrelated to a career in law.

At the time, then-Iowa Coach Hayden Fry said “I think Matt’s got a bright future. I’ve got a lot of good contacts out in Hollywood, and if he wants to go that route, I’ll help him get a job.”

Whitaker was inducted into the Iowa Football Coaches Association’s Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

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