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Iowa safety Amani Hooker is trying to teach lessons to a pair of young cornerbacks. Hear what the junior is telling them: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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Amani Hooker began his junior season as the starting strong safety for the Iowa football team and ended it by starting at outside linebacker.

No one had a bigger impact on a Hawkeye defense that led the Big Ten Conference by allowing only 17.4 points per game.

For his efforts, Hooker was named the Big Ten Conference's best defensive back Tuesday, despite a position switch after four games.

The 6-foot, 210-pound native of Minneapolis tied for the team lead with four interceptions and was first with seven passes broken up. Hooker ranked second with 59 tackles. He also had one sack and one safety.

Sophomore defensive end A.J. Epenesa was also named first team all-Big Ten by media voters Tuesday, despite the fact that he doesn't even start for the Hawkeyes. Epenesa was second team all-Big Ten in the coaches' voting. 

Sophomore wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette was named the Big Ten's return specialist of the year, the first Hawkeye to claim that honor.

Junior defensive end Anthony Nelson was named second team by conference media and third team by coaches

Senior defensive tackle Matt Nelson, senior safety Jake Gervase and senior kicker Miguel Recinos earned honorable-mention recognition from coaches and media. Senior defensive end Parker Hesse and sophomore safety Geno Stone earned honorable mention from media. Hesse is Iowa's Sportsmanship Award recipient.

The Big Ten will announce offensive honorees on Wednesday.

"Amani and Ihmir both made strides in their development as football players and leaders throughout the course of the season," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in a university news release. "Both A.J. and Geno also improved as younger players and played a bigger and bigger role as the season went on. For our seniors, the recognition is a result of their play on the field, and the leadership they have provided throughout their careers. It's gratifying to see others recognize those contributions."

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Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa has been learning from Parker Hesse since he arrived on campus. What has the senior taught the sophomore? Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

Hooker is the fourth Hawkeye to earn the defensive back award, and the third in the past four seasons.  Micah Hyde (2012), Desmond King (2015) and Josh Jackson (2017) previously won it.

Hooker was named first-team all-Big Ten by coaches and media, while Smith-Marsette was named first team by media and second team by coaches.

Smith-Marsette, a native of Newark, New Jersey, ranks second in the nation in kickoff returns with a 29.3-yard average on 19 runbacks.

Epenesa and Anthony Nelson share the team lead with 9.5 sacks, the most by a Hawkeye player since 2011. Epenesa has recorded 35 tackles and scored a touchdown at Illinois on a fumble return. Nelson is from Waukee and has 41 tackles. He scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery against Maryland.

Hesse has been a mainstay for the Iowa defense over the past four seasons. A native of Waukon, he has started 35 consecutive games and 46 career games. He has 52 tackles and ranks third on the team in tackles for loss (9-48) and sacks (4-27).

Recinos, a native of Mason City, leads Iowa in scoring with 89 points. He has made 15-of-20 field goals, including a string of 11 straight from games three through 10. He ranks 14th in career scoring with 171 points, including 27-of-36 field goals, and is perfect on 90 career PATs. He has made 11-of-12 field goals from outside 40 yards.

Gervase is a native of Davenport who began his career as a walk-on. He leads Iowa with 83 tackles, including a team-best 45 solo stops. He has three interceptions for 22 yards and three pass break-ups. Matt Nelson started Iowa's last 19 games at tackle after moving from end earlier in his career. The Cedar Rapids native recorded 27 tackles and is tied for second on the team with six pass break-ups.

Stone started the final eight games of the season in the secondary and made an immediate impact. The native of New Castle, Pennsylvania, had a pick-six against Penn State and has recorded 37 tackles. Stone and Hooker are tied for second in the Big Ten with four interceptions each.

Hooker provides Iowa with a unique combination of a hard-hitting tackler and a rangy pass coverage option. That versatility allowed the Hawkeyes (8-4) to insert sophomore Geno Stone into the starting lineup as a third safety. Since that occurred, Iowa recorded 16 interceptions and have 18 on the season, tied for the national lead.

Hooker emerged as a playmaker at safety last season, when he ended up with 56 tackles and was named the star of Iowa's Pinstripe Bowl victory. He showed his value repeatedly, as the top player in Iowa's spring game and then throughout the season.

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