Iowa's A.J. Epenesa on 'watch list' for award given to nation's best defensive player

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Iowa junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa has been named to the Bednarik Award "watch list."

The Bednarik Award is presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate defensive player. Iowa has had four semifinalists for the award since 2005 with former defensive back Desmond King being the most recent in 2016.

A first-team All-Big Ten selection last season, Epenesa (6-foot-6, 280 pounds) led the Big Ten and ranked 12th nationally in sacks (10.5), ranked second in the Big Ten and 16th nationally in forced fumbles (4), and ranked fourth in the conference in tackles for loss (16.5). The Glen Carbon, Illinois, native also recorded 37 tackles, four pass break-ups, eight pressures and a blocked punt. He did all of this despite being a reserve on the Hawkeye defensive line. He'll be a starter this season.

Iowa's A.J. Epenesa (94) celebrates after returning a fumble for a touchdown in the first half of a NCAA college football game against Illinois, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Champaign, Ill.

Epenesa was one of five finalists for the 2018 Polynesian Player of the Year award and a two-time Co-Big Ten Defensive Player of Week for his play in wins against Illinois and Iowa State. Earlier this summer, he garnered preseason first-team All-America recognition by Athlon Sports.

The Bednarik Award was established in 1995 and is named after Chuck Bednarik, a member of the College Football and NFL Hall of Fame.

Semifinalists for the award will be revealed Oct. 29 and three finalists named Nov. 25. The winner will be announced Dec. 12.

Mark Emmert covers University of Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen.