A.J. Epenesa will be leading the Iowa football front seven for a defense that figures to be among the best in the country again in 2019.
A.J. Epenesa will be one of the leaders on a defensive unit for an Iowa football team that ranked seventh in the country last season in total defense. They will be looking to repeat that in 2019. This time, Epenesa will be a starter.
The former 5-star recruit from Edwardsville has been everything the Hawkeyes could have asked for. As a true freshman, he played in eleven games and recorded 15 total tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Flash forward to his sophomore year and Epenesa recorded 37 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks with 3 pass deflections and 4 forced fumbles.
His 10.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles were the most in the Big Ten and the most since Adrian Clayborn recorded 11.5 sacks in 2009. Wearing the same number as Clayborn, Epenesa has the potential to be a first-round pick in next year’s draft. Keep in mind, he put up all those numbers as a part-time player.
Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the second-best EDGE defender in the Big Ten heading into the 2019 season. Michigan State’s Kenny Willekes put up some insane numbers last year for the Spartans: 78 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 8 sacks and 1 interception. Chase Young from Ohio State was also terrific, recording 33 total tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and 5 pass deflections.
Epenesa is in good company with these guys and media sources are starting to take notice. It will be interesting to see how opposing offensive lines try to limit Epenesa production this season. With Clayborn in 2010, he was double teamed a lot which freed up opportunities for other guys along the defensive line. A similar situation could happen here, which could mean big years from the likes of Chauncey Golston, Cedrick Lattimore, and Brady Reiff.
Epenesa will still get his numbers in for sure. He’s just too dominant and he knows it’s his time to shine:
"“There were some times where I thought I should be in,” he said as the second week of spring practices begin. “But I knew my time would come. And it’s here.” – via HawkCentral"
The 2018 first-team all-Big Ten player has the opportunity to become one of the greatest defensive players that has ever played for the Iowa football program.