Tight End, 1989-1992
While Matt Whitaker was helping the Hawkeyes win a Big Ten title and playing in the Rose Bowl, he was also preparing for a successful future in his life after football.
The Iowa tight end from 1989-1992 now spends his days fighting for Iowans in the courtroom, building legal defenses and representing people and businesses in need of counsel.
Whitaker, 46, is a managing partner at Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff — a law firm with offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. With more than 20 years of legal experience, the former Hawkeye provides services ranging from criminal defense to assisting with business transactions and estate planning.
“I enjoy helping people find solutions to some very complex problems,” Whitaker said. “I strive to make people’s lives better through my work in public policy.”
The former Hawkeye previously served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa from 2004-09 — a role he was appointed to by former President George W. Bush — and also previously ran for Iowa State Treasurer and for the U.S. Senate.
After finishing his undergraduate degree in three and a half years, the former Hawkeye was looking for ways to further his education while still playing football. He ended up receiving both a master’s degree and a law degree from Iowa.
Whitaker joined the Hawkeyes after a standout prep career at Ankeny High School. He was an All-State football player, and was eventually inducted into the Iowa High School Football Hall of Fame.
When Hayden Fry and Bill Snyder came to his house and offered a scholarship, Whitaker committed to the Hawkeyes on the spot.
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The backup tight end played on two of Fry’s most successful teams — the 1990 Iowa squad that shared a Big Ten title and earned a trip to the Rose Bowl, and the 1991 team that finished 10-1-1. Whitaker ended his collegiate career with 21 catches, 203 yards, and two touchdowns, including a score on a fake field goal against Illinois in 1990.
Former Iowa quarterback Matt Rodgers called Whitaker a reliable player and a hard worker. If Whitaker was in the game, Rodgers said he could always count on the tight end to be at the right place. The former quarterback still remembers the 28-yard touchdown grab Whitaker hauled in against Iowa State in the 1991 Cy-Hawk game.
Whitaker’s most memorable catch as a Hawkeye wasn’t a touchdown reception, it was a 9-yard grab against Washington in the 1991 Rose Bowl — Iowa’s most recent appearance in Pasadena.
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“One of the greatest experiences I ever had as a Hawkeye was playing in that Rose Bowl game and having a catch,” he said. “To this day I can brag to anyone who will listen that I had a catch in the Rose Bowl.”
Off the field, Whitaker earned academic All-Big Ten recognition and was given the Big Ten Medal of Honor — the award presented annually to a student-athlete at each Big Ten University who demonstrates proficiency in scholarship and athletics. He still remains connected to the Iowa football program by providing mentorship to players interested in pursuing careers in law or law enforcement.
“While the players need to enjoy and maximize their experience as a Hawkeye, it’s important to understand football is a young man’s sport,” he said. “They need to be prepared for what they want to do in the future when their playing days are done. I try to help by sharing the successes, challenges and opportunities I’ve encountered.”
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The married father of three is still involved in sports. He enjoys hunting and fishing, plays in an adult ice hockey league, coaches his kids teams, and co-hosts the HawkeyeNation radio show on WHO radio each week during the Iowa football season.
When asked about the future and what he’s most proud of, Whitaker points to football and family. He hopes to continue growing his law firm, and doesn’t have any plans on running for political office again. He feels he’s better suited finding other ways to serve the community.
“I’m proud to have played on Iowa Hawkeye teams that helped define the program and helped set the foundation for what Iowa football is today,” he said. “And I’m very proud of my three kids. As far as what the future holds for me, that’s an ongoing process. I’ve been working on assessing my strengths and seeing what God’s plan for my life is. I think I have a lot to offer and I think my best days are still ahead of me.”