HN Film Room: Evaluating A.J. Epenesa

January 17, 2016

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa has enjoyed the few weeks since losing at the Rose Bowl. All-American Desmond King announced he was returning for his senior season, the basketball team swept perennial Big Ten power Michigan State and Sunday the Hawkeyes landed a big fish on the recruiting trail.

Class of 2017 Defensive End A.J. Epenesa, from Edwardsville (IL) High verbally committed to Iowa ahead of scholarship offers from a who’s who of college football programs nationally. Alabama, Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Tennessee, UCLA, USC and Wisconsin were among the schools that reportedly offered the 6-foot-5, 255-pound junior. The national champion Tide visited him at school this week.

The Hawkeyes rarely beat out the blue bloods for the nation’s top prospects. It helps when he’s a legacy and grew up loving the Black and Gold.

His father, Epenesa Epenesa, played on the defensive line at Iowa in the mid-1990s. As one would imagine, he was thrilled with his son’s decision but allowed him to make his own choice.

Rivals ranks Epenesa as the 27th best player regardless of position in the ’17 Class. Scout and 247 list him at 16 and 2, respectively.

I watched A.J. Epenesa in person on Sept. 5 when Edwardsville played at Rock Island (IL) High. Not surprisingly, I was impressed.

EVALUATION: The first thing you notice about Epenesa is his size. Not just his height, but the thickness of his upper and lower bodies. And it’s not fat. It’s lean mass.

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Then, you watch Epenesa come off the edge and you realize what the hype is about. He explodes off the ball, has long arms and quick feet. His combination of size and speed at the defensive edge position is rare.

Epenesa is a freakish athlete. He’s a Top 30 basketball recruit in the state of Illinois. He’s also one of its best discus throwers in track and field. He could play both sports in college at a high level.

Rock Island spent most of the night chipping Epenesa with a back or just straight out double-teaming him. That, the extreme heat and humidity, and him playing both ways wore him down as the game went on but he still dominated.

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Epenesa has great balance and doesn’t just get by on his physical gifts. From working with his father and his high school coaches, he displays an excellent array of pass rushing moves.

Epenesa certainly looks ready for college football already and another year of high school development will only help. Once he gets with Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle the possibilities should be scary for future Hawkeye opponents.

The good news for Iowa is that while they’ll be green at defensive end this year if Drew Ott doesn’t return, the group should be well-seasoned when Epenesa arrives. If he hits any hurdles, the coaches can ease him in.

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Having interviewed Epenesa a number of times, including in person after the Rock Island game, he fits well into the Iowa program. He’s a humble kid who wants to win and doesn’t show any signs of entitlement despite all of his accolades.

Here are the highlight package I put together from the Rock Island game:

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