Iowa football: Epenesa, Duncan named to all-Big Ten first team
A.J. Epenesa said he wasn't "looking for the accolades" entering his junior season as an Iowa defensive end.
But when you rack up nine quarterback sacks and force three fumbles despite seeing persistent double-teams, the accolades will come.
Epenesa on Tuesday was named first team all-Big Ten Conference by both reporters who cover the league and the 14 coaches.
So was placekicker Keith Duncan, a more unlikely honoree when the season began but a player who put together a season for the ages. Duncan, a redshirt junior, was Iowa's starting kicker in 2016 as a freshman, but was beaten out by Miguel Recinos the next two seasons.
Duncan won the job back this summer and proceeded to set a Big Ten single-season record with 29 field goals. For his efforts, Duncan was also named the league's Bakken-Andersen winner as the top kicker.
Duncan is the first Iowa kicker to earn the conference award since its inception in 2011. The award is named after former Wisconsin kicker Jim Bakken and former Michigan State kicker Morten Andersen. Duncan is one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award as the top kicker in the nation.
“I’m just trying to be the best Hawkeye I can be and play for the guys around me. Because I really care about this team," Epenesa said this spring before being a preseason all-American.
His best included 13 tackles for loss and another nine quarterback hurries. And he saved his best football for November, totaling 24 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in that four-game stretch. Epenesa had a career-high 14 tackles, five of them behind the line of scrimmage, in Friday's 27-24 Iowa victory at Nebraska.
A native of Glen Carbon, Illinois, Epenesa was also a first-team all-Big Ten choice by the media last season, when he had 10.5 sacks.
He was the star of an Iowa defense that ranks sixth in the nation by allowing only 13.2 points per game. Epenesa is widely considered a potential first-round NFL Draft pick if he chooses to turn professional after this season. Next up for No. 19 Iowa (9-3) is a bowl game, which will be announced Sunday.
Iowa senior cornerback Michael Ojemudi was a second-team selection by the media and a third-team choice by the coaches.
Ojemudia, a native of Farmington Hills, Michigan, had 47 tackles, three interceptions and seven passes broken up.
Junior safety Geno Stone was a second-team all-conference selection by the coaches.
Stone had 65 tackles, one interception and three passes broken up.
Earning honorable mention recognition from both coaches and media were junior defensive end Chauncey Golston and senior linebacker Kristian Welch. Senior defensive tackle Cedrick Lattimore earned honorable mention from the coaches, while the media extended honorable mention honors to senior punter Michael Sleep-Dalton.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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