Though it has been a decade since Matthew Eaton scored his last touchdown for the Guam High School Panthers, the 6-foot-4 wide receiver is making headlines worldwide.
After a successful playing career for the Iowa State University Cyclones, where he scored 6 touchdowns and made 48 receptions, Eaton will make his NFL debut Aug. 10. Eaton, who signed a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on July 30, will play in a Week 2 preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I truly still can’t believe that I’m here and I have this opportunity,” said Eaton, taking a short break from watching game film and learning Tampa Bay’s playbook. “I just thank God every day for it, and I am definitely trying to make the most of it, while I am here.”
Shaped by Guam's coaches
While Eaton’s stint on Guam lasted only three years, from 2009 to 2011, several local coaches were instrumental in developing his game.
Most notably, he said, Jacob Dowdell, GHS head football coach; Joe Taitano and Benjamin Leon Guerrero, GHS basketball coaches; Greg Jacobs, Southern Cowboys football coach; and Stephen Phillips, a receiver coach, helped shape his game.
“These are people who really embedded a gritty mentality … and really helped develop my work ethic,” Eaton said. “There are so many people on the island that had a really intricate part in my life and my career, both on and off the field.”
As a freshman in 2010, Eaton helped Guam High to its first football championship.
He said playing football on Guam was "one of the best memories" of his whole career.
“There is nothing like island football," he added. "My whole, entire time on Guam was phenomenal. Looking back at it, it was one of the best times of my life. I definitely miss the island."
Remembering his high school playing days fondly, Eaton said he still shares stories of playing against the Father Duenas Memorial School Friars and the George Washington High School Geckos.
“What I remember is that the … fans … get really … heated,” Eaton said. “When we played FD, everybody was standing, literally, on the sideline around the whole field and the end zone.”
“It was crazy, playing GW,” he said. “The fans (were) crazy.”
Pointing out the island culture and food, Eaton said, “The whole experience was very unique.”
"I don’t think that you can get that type of high school football anywhere else," he added.
Down, but not out
In May 2018, after getting waived by the Green Bay Packers, Eaton was without a team. For three months, he waited for good news. Since finding a home in Tampa Bay, the starstruck Eaton has been made to feel at home.
“Mike Evans (wide receiver) and Jameis Winston (quarterback) have welcomed me with open arms … and taken me under their wings,” Eaton said. “When I’m in meetings and talking to Mike, I can’t believe that I’m talking to Mike Evans. He’s like a crazy receiver, man. Ever since high school, I’ve been trying to take little pieces of his game and model my game after his.”
"Everyone on the Buccaneers has done that,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous experience. All the guys in the receiver room have been super helpful.”
With Tampa Bay projected to see where its new investment fits into the roster, wherever he's asked to play, Eaton will be giving it his all.
“I hope to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way, whether that’s on special teams, punt return, on punt, playing gunner or going down to make tackles,” Eaton said.
He said he wants to add “more value to the team than just being on offense and being a receiver.”
“But when I do get my opportunities to play receiver, every ball that comes my way, I plan to make a big-time play,” he added. “Even when the ball is not in my hands,” he said he will try to “contribute to the run game and block, and be the best teammate I can possibly be."