Point/Counterpoint: Who’s the most surprising Iowa football player thus far?

Many Hawkeyes have filled their respective roles well, but who has been the biggest surprise star for Iowa?

September 12, 2018

A.J. Epenesa

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Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa (94) sacks Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12) during the game between Iowa and Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. The Hawkeyes fell to the Badgers 38-14.

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa (94) sacks Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12) during the game between Iowa and Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. The Hawkeyes fell to the Badgers 38-14.

Ben Allan Smith

Ben Allan Smith

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa (94) sacks Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12) during the game between Iowa and Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. The Hawkeyes fell to the Badgers 38-14.

A.J. Epenesa. If you don’t know the name, wake up. He is the Hawkeye’s most surprising player so far in this season.

Some may ask, “Why Epenesa? He’s a former 5-star recruit with outstanding potential.” That’s exactly why I picked him.

At the beginning of the season, Epenesa was listed as second-string defensive end behind senior Parker Hesse. Hesse has been a solid starter for some time, and Epenesa was coming off a freshman year with some glimmers of success but nothing consistent.

Then Iowa State messed up, big time.

Iowa State unintentionally allowed Epenesa to get involved. With the game going back and forth, both teams playing for their respective halves of the state, something had to give. Fatigue was beginning to set in for both teams. Coaches were substituting in hopes of a spark or at least some fresh legs.

Out of nowhere, similar to WWE superstar Randy Orton, Epenesa struck.

A pair of sacks, a batted ball, and a forced fumble later, Epenesa had asserted himself as  Iowa’s own Orton. Sneaky, scary, and savage. Notably, both Epenesa and Orton are upwards of 6-5 and weigh more than 260 pounds.

Will it take Epenesa’s Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors for teams to take include him in their game plans? I sure hope so.

If the rest of Iowa’s scheduled teams choose to ignore Epenesa and shrug off his dominating performance, then he will eventually grow into Orton’s alter-ego; the Apex Predator.

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Brady Ross

Iowa fullback Brady Ross signs a fans shirt at Kinnick Stadium on April 23, 2016. The defense beat the offense 20-18 in the spring game.

Alex Kroeze

Iowa fullback Brady Ross signs a fans shirt at Kinnick Stadium on April 23, 2016. The defense beat the offense 20-18 in the spring game.

With two weeks in the books for the Hawkeyes, we are starting to see players do more than what was expected of them in the beginning of the season. Whether this is making big plays or being a role player, most of the team has looked different from what was expected.

One name that comes to mind is junior fullback Brady Ross.

He may only have a pair of rushes for 8 yards, but he has one of the biggest averages on the team.

He also has a reception for 4 yards, but that’s not where his value comes into play. He is a good blocking back and has protected Nate Stanley from many possible sacks.

When the Hawkeyes struggle for yards, they should flip him the ball and see what he can do with it. If he starts to get more looks as the season goes on, the offensive yards per game would be incrementally higher.

He can help the Hawkeyes get away from slow starts in the first half and help get those tough yards between the chains. The consistency of his yards gained is high for any back, especially a fullback.

Expect to see Ross make much more of an impact in the passing and running game as the season continues.

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