John Waggoner Working to Push Way into D-End Rotation

August 17, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson could be counted on. Iowa’s starting defensive ends the last two seasons were as reliable as sweet corn in August around here.

Now, they’re off to the NFL, Nelson training in Tampa Bay, Hesse working out with Tennessee. Their absence from Iowa opens the door for others.

Junior A.J. Epenesa moves from a reserve role into a No. 1 spot after earning first-team all-Big Ten honors and leading the conference with 10.5 sacks last season. Classmate Chauncey Golston will start opposite him after his game ascended throughout the 2018 campaign.

After that, however, exists the unknown. None of the guys competing for backup reps have a snap for Iowa at defensive end on their resume.

Senior Amani Jones and Joe Evans, a redshirt freshman, played linebacker last year. John Waggoner red shirted as a true freshman. Zach VanValkenburg competed at Hillsdale College, a Division II program in Michigan.

At the open Kids Day practice last week, all of those guys received reps with the second team. Jones and Waggoner entered camp listed as the backups on the depth chart.

Waggoner (6-5, 270) prepped at state powerhouse West Des Moines (IA) Dowling Catholic. At points during his career there, he held scholarship offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and many others.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker has been pleased with Waggoner’s progress. He’s added more than 20 pounds since arriving on campus. He’s focused now on becoming more technically sound.

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“I just need to keep improving, like nit-picky stuff, like hand placement and getting off blocks efficiently,” Waggoner said.

He believes the depth of talent at defensive end is helping him improve.

“It’s a whole lot of fun, first of all from the competitive aspect of it. Second of all, you can learn a lot from those older guys that are real talented,” Waggoner said.

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There was a time when the Hawkeyes rode their starting defensive linemen hard. The backups were seldom seen.

That’s changed the last few years. They’ve played eight guys, keeping everyone fresh. It’s been effective.

The guys at the position now know they can earn that time by earning the coaches’ trust. Waggoner sees that opportunity.

“We’re not really worried about anyone standing out individually or anything like that. If we’re doing well as a unit, we’re all happy,” he said.

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Iowa’s depth at defensive end kept Waggoner from seeing the field last year despite the new rule that allowed players appearing in four or fewer games to still redshirt.

Dowling won state championships during Waggoner’s three years as a starter. He was named to the Des Moines Register’s elite all-state team as a senior, and was a member of the Iowa Newspaper Association’s all-state first-team for his final two seasons.

Waggoner contributed 5.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss as a senior. He often was pulled from games early when the outcome already was decided. As a junior, he posted 12 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

Iowa defensive line coach Kelvin Bell praises Waggoner for his work ethic and attention to detail. He sees progress being made as the youngster receives more reps.

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