Reese Morgan Dishes on Daviyon Nixon, A.J. Epenesa, Others

December 12, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Reese Morgan has done wonders rebuilding Iowa’s defensive line since transitioning to the position from coaching the offensive line in 2012. The Hawkeyes’ 34 sacks this season ranked 21st in the nation and third in the Big Ten.

Anthony Nelson and A.J. Epenesa tied for the conference lead with 9.5 sacks apiece. Iowa led the Big Ten in scoring defense (17.4) and the success started up front.

The Hawkeyes will lose three key components on this year’s defensive line following the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against Mississippi State. Parker Hesse, Matt Nelson and Sam Brincks will have exhausted their eligibility.

“All three of those guys are strong leaders for us,” Morgan said Wednesday here at the football performance center. “Their leadership has been very good. They do it in different ways.”

The cupboard won’t be bare, however. Epenesa returns after earning all-Big Ten honors. Chauncey Golston is emerging at end, and Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff are back for their senior seasons after working into the defensive tackle rotation the last two seasons.

One big question to be answered is if Anthony Nelson stays for his senior year. He’s exploring the NFL this month, waiting to hear back from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.

Is he ready for the league?

“Is he ready for the NFL? I hope he’s ready for Mississippi State. That would be the most important question and we have time to prepare,” Morgan said with a smile.

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The Hawkeyes also anticipate adding Daviyon Nixon to the defensive tackle rotation in ’19. The highly-regarded transfer from Iowa Western is sitting out this season and focusing on academics.

“I think Daviyon’s got a really bright future. He’s a young man that can really do some special stuff. Very nice young man, very coachable, and excited to have the opportunity for work with him,” Morgan said.

Iowa signed Nixon out of his Wisconsin high school before he ended up spending one year at Western. He performed so well at the Council Bluffs’ junior college that college football power Alabama offered him a scholarship. He stuck with the Hawkeyes.

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Head coach Kirk Ferentz announced during the summer that Nixon would miss this season to focus on academics. He still practiced like he was going to play.

“He came to work every day,” Morgan said. “He understands. He embodied his role. He was scout team player of the week multiple times. So, he understood what he had to do and knows he’s got a lot to learn yet as well.”

Epenesa has yet to start a game at Iowa, playing behind veterans Hesse and Anthony Nelson at end. The true sophomore did improve and is poised to take over the for Hesse as the starter next season.

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Morgan saw more consistency and physicality in Epenesa this season. He also showed better practice habits and a commitment to detail

“All the things you look for in coaching, so if there was a checklist of things, you’d say, check, check, check; improvement, improvement, improvement. And he’s the one that made that decision to focus in on those things,” Morgan said.

Watch what else Morgan had to say about Nixon, Epenesa and some of his true freshmen in this HN TV video:

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