Fulfilling the Dream: AJ Epenesa Talks Commitment
AJ Epenesa has dreamed of being an Iowa Hawkeye for as long as he can remember. On Sunday, with his family by his side, he was able to realize that dream when he told Kirk Ferentz he was committing to Iowa.
“You can ask all of my friends from growing up; I have told them that one day I would play for Iowa,” AJ Epenesa told me on Sunday as he and his family were leaving Iowa City for their home near St Louis.
“The first Iowa game I went to, Chad Greenway was playing against Michigan in Kinnick,” AJ Epenesa told me. “I have always remembered the moments fromthat game, the atmosphere, the traditions; it was fun to be out there in that type of environment.”
“They have always been my favorite team and now I get to say that I have committed to the University of Iowa…that I get to say I have committed to play for my all time favorite team; this is pretty surreal. It’s awesome and it is an amazing blessing.”
Epenesa received his first offer from Iowa, something he and his father have told me was “a very emotional experience.” That was back in June of 2014, when AJ was heading into his sophomore year of high school.
AJ told me that he had made up his mind about committing to Iowa “a few months ago,” but he wanted to do it on his terms.
‘His terms’ meant doing it when his entire family could be present, which included his older sister Samantha, who is a senior at Purdue where she has been a key volleyball player for the Boilermakers.
You need to know something straight away about the Epenesa’s; Family is incredibly important to them. They are a close-knit clan and family is a huge priority.
“We were waiting on his sister to be available to be there and then he would do it (commit),” Epenesa Epenesa (Eppy) said, AJ’s father and former Hawkeye. “There is a dead recruiting period during the holidays or we would have done it then, but you can’t meet with them. It was a matter of that and when my daughter was available. He wanted his sister to be involved.”
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The family told me how important it was for them all to be together when Samantha committed to Purdue years ago.
“We did that for Sam with Purdue and it was a great family decision for us, for her to go there and for us to be there together. It was a special moment, so we wanted to do the same with AJ,” Eppy said. “We know this weekend was the best time to do it as Sam was available, and we were available. We did it pretty good as I don’t think Coach was expecting that today.”
AJ elaborated on the surprise visit.
“He (Kirk Ferentz) was happy to see me and was not expecting us. We had a meeting together and my sister drover all the way from Purdue. Me and my family were sitting in the chairs like usual, and we started talking about everything like normal,” AJ said. “My dad told Coach Ferentz that I had something to tell him and I told him the reason we came up here was because I wanted to commit and play for the Iowa Hawkeyes. He jumped out of his chair and gave us all hugs. It was really fun..fun to see him react that way. It was a great moment.”
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There was no pressure for AJ to commit, neither from Iowa nor any stress that AJ was feeling to make a decision. He wanted to do this, to fulfill that life long dream. He realizes that in doing so this early, he can become a recruiting benefit for the Class of 2017.
“I did think about that a little bit, but this was the best for me and my family to do this today; that was my main concern.” AJ said. “But now that I am committed, I can work on that a little bit. I can do some of that but I will also get to focus on the sports I am in right now.”
The timing couldn’t have been better for Iowa, as they were hosting a large crop of juniors on Sunday, their first big Junior Day of the year.
If this is the first time you are learning of AJ Epenesa, he is considered the #1 strong side defensive end prospect in the country for the Class of 2017. 247Sports.com has him rated as the #2 prospect overall, regardless of position. He had offers from a veritable who’s who of college football.
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Alabama offered him and was in to visit with him this past week. Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame…you name the blueblood program and they likely had an offer into AJ Epenesa.
But in the end it was the Hawkeyes, and it was AJ’s decision. You might say that he was born into it, but Iowa really helped themselves with the year they had on the field in 2015. Now, the Epenesa’s will get to take their family show on the road to Kinnick Stadium and beyond in the coming years.
“We never get a chance to go up to games or meet up with all of our friends,” Eppy said. “We have always had to be home; either I am coaching or my wife is coaching. It’s special for him to get a scholarship and to go to Iowa, it’s a big deal for my family. We never get a chance to go up or do anything with anyone because we have been so busy with our children. For us to be here today like this, and for Iowa to respect my son enough to offer a scholarship, that is a special thing.”
“I haven’t been this excited in a long time, and I am super excited for the Hawkeye Nation.”
AJ Epenesa is the fifth known verbal commitment for Iowa’s Class of 2017. Players will not be able to sign a binding letter of intent until the first Wednesday in February of 2017.