The kingpins of college football recruiting made a play to land A.J. Epenesa.
The bluest of bluebloods — Alabama, Florida State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC — all came in with scholarship offers and sales pitches for why the most coveted defensive end in the 2017 class should join their program.
In the end, though, Epenesa went back to the school where his football roots began.
The son of a former Iowa defensive lineman delivered a recruiting bombshell Sunday on Twitter when he declared it “a great day to be a Hawkeye” and announced his plans to join Kirk Ferentz’s program.
“This week me and my family have made the biggest decision of my life,” Epenesa wrote in the message he posted on Twitter. “It has been a long and hard road, but this morning my family and I have come together with all of the coaches and told them that I am committing to the University of Iowa. We are so excited as a family. I want to give all of the thanks to God for blessing me and keeping me safe all of this time. Thank you to everyone who has helped me up to this point. It hasn’t been easy, but all of the hard work definitely pays off. It’s a great day to be a Hawkeye! Go Hawks!!!”
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound defensive end from Edwardsville, Ill., collected more than two dozen scholarship offers from Power 5 conference programs and rocketed up national recruiting charts. The son of former Iowa defensive lineman Eppy Epenesa is ranked the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2017 class by 247Sports. He’s ranked 16th by Scout and 27th by Rivals on the list of top juniors in the country.
“I think he’s going to be the highest-rated commitment they’ve ever gotten since the Internet started tracking and rating recruits,” Scout.com analyst Allen Trieu said. “He’s a kid who really could’ve gone anywhere in the country. You have the family connection with his dad playing there, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. To make it official and follow in his dad’s footsteps, especially as early as it is right now, it’s about as big as it gets.”
A.J. Epenesa informed Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz of his decision Sunday during a trip to Iowa City for the Hawkeyes’ Junior Day. He’s believed to be the fifth player to commit to Iowa’s 2017 class.
“It’s big on two levels,” Rivals.com analyst Josh Helmholdt said. “Obviously, No. 1, you’re getting an amazingly talented defensive end prospect. Physically, he has no limitations. He’s 6-5, he’s 255 pounds, he’s athletic, he’s quick, he can bend, he can move, he has everything college coaches look for and down the line NFL coaches are going to be looking for. Physically, he has all the gifts.
“No. 2, though, you’re getting a commitment on your junior day from arguably your No. 1 target in the class over a year before signing day. That gives a huge boost in momentum to the class coming off a great 2015 season. Not only is this big news from the standpoint of adding a great front-seven player, but this is also the type of news that generates that offseason momentum in recruiting and can attract other top players to Iowa City.”
The Hawkeyes were first in line to offer a scholarship nearly two years ago. Helmholdt said it was apparent early in the recruiting process that Epenesa would develop into one of the top prospects in the country.
“He’s got great size, he’s 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds with plenty of room to grow, an outstanding athlete who can really bend and move and rush the edge at that size,” he said. “You see him do some things on the basketball court as well and you see the athleticism translate over. I think he’s going to be a kid who can add a bunch of weight, stay that athletic and really be a force against the run and the pass. You see a lot of high school defensive ends who are undersized, who are edge rushers. This kid has the size and strength and athleticism to do it all.”