Iowa's A.J. Epenesa on 'watch list' for best defensive player in college football

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Iowa junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa has already been touted as a potential all-American this season. But the best defensive player in all of college football? He's on that list, too.

Epenesa was put on the "watch list" Monday for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy given to the best defensive player.

Former Hawkeye linebackers Josey Jewell (2017) and Pat Angerer (2009) have been finalists for the award.

A first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection last season, Epenesa (6-foot-6, 280 pounds) led the league and ranked 12th nationally in sacks (10.5). He was second in the Big Ten and 16th nationally in forced fumbles with four. The Glen Carbon, Illinois, native also recorded 37 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, eight pressures and a blocked punt.

Iowa right end A.J. Epenesa reacts after making a tackle against Maryland on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

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 a year ago.

Last week, Epenesa was named to the Big Ten preseason honors list, while also garnering preseason first-team all-America recognition by Athlon Sports and College Football News earlier this summer.

The award is named after Bronislau “Bronko” Nagurski, a consensus all-American defensive tackle and also an all-American fullback in 1929, becoming the only player ever picked at two positions in the same season.

The Football Writers Association of America will announce a Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week throughout the season. Five finalists for the trophy will be revealed Nov. 20. The winner will be announced Dec. 9 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

MORE: He was absent from Big Ten media days, but Epenesa was still Iowa's star

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

No one covers the Hawkeyes like the Register. Subscribe today at Des Moines to make sure you never miss a moment.