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Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa discusses his stardom and raves about Amani Jones and Joe Evans. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

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The bigger Iowa-centric story from Tuesday's release of Associated Press preseason football All-Americans would have been if Hawkeyes defensive end A.J. Epenesa wasn't on the squad.

But there's no need for consternation this time. The five-star junior and potential top-10 NFL Draft choice was among the two defensive ends named to the writers' group's first team.

The 6-foot-6, 280-pound star joined Ohio State junior Chase Young on the first team. Those two and senior Michigan State linebacker Joe Bachie were the three first-team Big Ten honorees on that side of the ball.

Epenesa has been under the spotlight since the moment he committed to the Hawkeyes as one of the highest-profile recruits of the Kirk Ferentz era. Even though he hasn't been a starter, the Glen Carbon, Illinois, product has soared, tallying 10½ sacks in the front four rotation as a sophomore and earned a first-team all-conference selection. That total led the league and was the most by a Hawkeye since Adrian Clayborn's 11½-sack breakout season in 2009. 

MORE:A.J. Epenesa was the talk of Big Ten media days without even being there

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He had 37 tackles on the season overall, including 16½ for loss. He forced four fumbles, recovering one. He even added four deflected passes at the line of scrimmage and blocked a punt. Also to nobody's surprise, Epenesa is on the 10-player conference watch list for the 2019 season, in addition to making the short list for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, awarded to college football's best defensive player..

“There were some times where I thought I should be in,” Epenesa told HawkCentral this spring about his playing time. “But I knew my time would come. And it’s here.”

And everybody else now knows it.

In other highlights, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence headlines the first-team offense, and he has two teammates from the top-ranked Tigers with him.

Lawrence, the first freshman to quarterback to lead a team to a national championship in more than 30 years, was joined on the first-team offense by running back Travis Etienne. Linebacker Isaiah Simmons was a first-team selection on defense. Clemson and No. 2 Alabama tied for the most first-team selections with three.

2019 ASSOCIATED PRESS PRESEASON ALL-AMERICAN TEAMS

FIRST TEAM

OFFENSE

Quarterback – Trevor Lawrence, sophomore, Clemson.

Running back – Jonathan Taylor, junior, Wisconsin; Travis Etienne, junior, Clemson.

Tackles – Andrew Thomas, junior, Georgia; Walker Little, junior, Stanford.

Guards – Shane Lemieux, senior, Oregon; Ben Bredeson, senior, Michigan.

Center – Tyler Biadasz, junior, Wisconsin.

Tight end – Albert Okwuegbunam, junior, Missouri.

Wide receivers – Jerry Jeudy, junior, Alabama; Tylan Wallace, junior, Oklahoma State.

All-purpose player – Rondale Moore, sophomore, Purdue.

Kicker – Andre Szmyt, sophomore, Syracuse.

DEFENSE

Ends – Chase Young, junior, Ohio State; A.J. Epenesa, junior, Iowa.

Tackles – Derrick Brown, senior, Auburn; Raekwon Davis, senior, Alabama.

Linebackers – Dylan Moses, junior, Alabama; Isaiah Simmons, junior, Clemson; Joe Bachie, senior, Michigan State.

Cornerbacks – Bryce Hall, senior, Virginia; Paulson Adebo, junior, Stanford.

Safeties – Grant Delpit, junior, LSU; Andre Cisco, sophomore, Syracuse.

Punter – Braden Mann, senior, Texas A&M.

SECOND TEAM

OFFENSE

Quarterback – Tua Tagovailoa, junior, Alabama.

Running backs – D’Andre Swift, junior, Georgia; Eno Benjamin, junior, Arizona State.

Tackles – Trey Adams, senior, Washington; Calvin Throckmorton, senior, Oregon.

Guards – Tommy Kraemer, senior, Notre Dame; John Simpson, senior, Clemson.

Center – Nick Harris, senior, Washington.

Tight end – Jared Pinkney, senior, Vanderbilt.

Wide receivers – Laviska Shenault Jr., junior, Colorado; Justyn Ross, sophomore, Clemson.

All-purpose player – CeeDee Lamb, junior, Oklahoma.

Kicker – Rodrigo Blankenship, senior, Georgia.

DEFENSE

Ends – Kenny Willekes, senior, Michigan State; Julian Okwara, senior, Notre Dame.

Tackles – Leki Fotu, senior, Utah; Marvin Wilson, junior, Florida State.

Linebackers – Paddy Fisher, junior, Northwestern; Evan Weaver, senior, California; Shaquille Quarterman, senior, Miami.

Cornerbacks – Kristian Fulton, senior, LSU; CJ Henderson, junior, Florida.

Safeties – Alohi Gillman, junior, Notre Dame; Jordan Fuller, senior, Ohio State.

Punter – James Smith, junior, Cincinnati.

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