From Iowa Athletics: IOWA CITY, Iowa – – University of Iowa sophomore defensive end A.J. Epenesa has been named one of five finalists for the Polynesian Player of the Year Award. The announcement was made Thursday by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. The award is presented annually to the most outstanding college football player of Polynesian ancestry that epitomizes great ability and integrity.
Along with Epenesa, the finalists include defensive back Alohi Gilman (Notre Dame), offensive lineman Dru Samia (Oklahoma), quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), and wide receiver John Ursua (Hawai`i).
Epenesa (6-foot-5, 277 pounds), played in all 12 games, recording 20 solo tackles and 15 assists. He shares the Big Ten lead with teammate Anthony Nelson with 9.5 sacks, and leads the team with 15.5 tackles for loss. Epenesa leads the team with three forced fumbles and has three pass break-ups.
The native of Glen Carbon, Illinois (Edwardsville High School), earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from league coaches and was second-team by conference media. He was named Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week following wins over Iowa State and Illinois.
In Iowa’s 63-0 win at Illinois, Epenesa caused and recovered a fumble, scoring his first career touchdown on a 19-yard return. He also blocked a punt.
The University of Oregon and Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was selected as the inaugural recipient of the award in 2014, followed by Notre Dame and Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley in 2015, University of Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau in 2016, and Washington State University defensive end Hercules Mata`afa in 2017.
Iowa (8-4, 5-4) will face Mississippi State in the 2019 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida, on Jan. 1 (11 a.m. CT, ESPN2). For ticket and bowl game information, visit hawkeyesports.com/bowlcentral.
It’d be hard to find a player in the Kirk Ferentz era that will have more hype going into their next season than Epenesa. Former Iowa cornerback Desmond King would also be a valid choice, but King didn’t possess the physical gifts that Epenesa does. Epenesa earned first-team All-Big Ten and he only played 48 percent of snaps this season.
His workload will be increased heading into next season and the Iowa front four has a shot to be one of the best defensive lines in the country if Nelson returns. JUCO defensive tackle transfer Daviyon Nixon will also be added to the mix. There’s little doubt that Epenesa has a shot to be a top-ten NFL draft pick after next season.
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