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Hawkeyes’ Hooker, Smith-Marsette earn top honors | Hawkmania.com Iowa Hawkeyes football, basketball, wrestling and more sports

Amani Hooker and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, two Iowa underclassmen whose roles evolved throughout the 2018 football season, were honored Tuesday as the best at their craft in the Big Ten.

Hooker became the fourth Hawkeye in seven seasons to be selected as the Tatum-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year while Smith-Marsette is the first Iowa player to be named as the Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year.

“Amani and Ihmir both made strides in their development as football players and leaders throughout the course of the season,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in a statement.

Hooker follows Micah Hyde in 2012, Desmond King in 2015 and Josh Jackson in 2017 in winning the defensive back honor, while Smith-Marsette was recognized after ranking second in the nation with an average of 29.3 yards on 19 kickoff returns.

The recognition came as the Big Ten unveiled its defensive and special teams all-conference selections. The league will honor its offensive players today.

For Hooker, the recognition comes at the end of an 8-4 regular season which started with him lining up at strong safety but spending a number of snaps during the final two-thirds of the year playing a hybrid outside linebacker position that allowed Iowa to maximize his skill set against spread offensive attacks.

The 6-foot, 210-pound junior from Minneapolis helped lead a Hawkeye defense which limited opponents to a Big Ten-low 17.4 points per game and shares the national lead with 19 interceptions.

Second on the team with 59 tackles, Hooker leads Iowa with seven pass break-ups and shares the team lead with four interceptions. He has also recorded 3.5 tackles for a loss and had one sack.

Hooker was awarded first-team all-conference honors by both league coaches and a media panel, which also presented defensive end A.J. Epenesa first-team recognition.

Epenesa, a sophomore defensive end, was awarded second-team honors from coaches, while junior defensive end Anthony Nelson received second-team honors from the media and third-team accolades from league coaches.

Epenesa and Nelson share the team lead with 9.5 sacks and both have returned a fumble for a touchdown this season, Epenesa against Illinois and Nelson against Maryland. Epenesa has 35 tackles for the season while Nelson has 41.

Senior defensive tackle Matt Nelson, senior safety Jake Gervase and senior kicker Miguel Recinos received honorable mention from both the coaches and media, while senior defensive end Parker Hesse and sophomore safety Geno Stone received honorable mention from the media.

“Both A.J. and Geno improved as younger players and played a bigger and bigger role as the season went on,’’ Ferentz said. “For our seniors, the recognition is a result of their play on the field and the leadership they have provided throughout their careers. It’s gratifying to see others recognize those contributions.’’

Gervase, a second-year starter from Davenport Assumption who began his career as a walk-on, leads Iowa with 83 tackles in addition to having three interceptions and three pass break-ups this season.

In addition to the Hawkeyes receiving top individual honors, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald swept Hayes-Schembechler and Dave McClain coach of the year awards selected by the coaches and media, respectively, Michigan State’s Kenny Willekes was named the Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year and Michigan’s Devin Bush was honored as both the Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year and the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year.

Illinois’ Chase McLaughlin was named the Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year, the first Fighting Illini player to earn one of the 11 position awards that have been handed out annually since 2011. The senior earned first-team all-Big Ten honors from coaches and second-team recognition from the media after connecting on 20-of-25 field goals this season.

Illini sophomore punter Blake Hayes received third-team honors from the media and honorable mention from the coaches. Illinois linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips and defensive end Bobby Roundtree were awarded honorable mention by the media.

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