With Osa Masina and Dru Samia competing at the All-Poly football camp in Layton, Utah and Andre James and Porter Gustin hanging out on the sidelines, it would be a pretty difficult for a 15 year old rising sophomore to steal their thunder. But that's exactly what A.J. Epenesa did. The 2017 defensive end from Edwardsville, Illinois came out to compete in one of the premiere camps in the country and he left with a few offers from National Championship contenders.
"I came out here to compete at a great camp and spend some time with family out here," Epenesa explained. "I certainly didn't expect anything like this to happen. This camp will certainly be something I will never forget."
Epenesa stood out from the first few minutes of day one to the final scrimmage on the day three. At 6-5 1/2 235 pounds, Epenesa has the perfect frame to play defensive end. He is a quick athlete that reacts to the ball before any one else on the field. The young defensive end displayed a variety of pass rush moves that left more than a few offensive tackles looking silly. His strength is a work in progress, but with that being said, he was probably the strongest sophomore out there. Epenesa is also a tremendous basketball player, and is recruitable on the hardwood as well.
"This camp has been a blessing," Epenesa stated. "I came here with an offer from Iowa, which is one of my dream schools. My dad played there and the Hawkeyes have treated me really well. I am really happy with that Iowa offer. But, since coming to Utah I have picked up a few more offers. Utah offered me earlier this week, Oklahoma offered me on the first day of All-Poly, and this morning Wisconsin offered me and so did Florida State. This feels like a dream to me. I know I need to keep working hard, continue to get better, and of course stay humble. I know I haven't really done anything yet. I am so grateful for this experience and all the schools that believe in me."
Epenesa comes from a family of athletes, his older sister, Sam, is a good volleyball player at Purdue, and his parents were both standout athletes at Iowa and Iowa Wesleyan. There is a chance A.J. could be the best in the entire family.
"Growing up in a family full of athletes, I have prepared to compete my entire life," Epenesa explained. "My parents stressed being a student-athlete, so I have always taken care of school first. Academics are really important to me, and will factor into my college decision down the road. I love both football and basketball, but football is my true love. This is a blessing and I can't believe this is happening."
The 2017 signing day is about 30 months away, so Epenesa will have plenty of time to figure out what school fits him best. He has a few schools that are standing out to him early, but plans to take his time with the recruiting process.
"I am going to take my time, I don't want to rush my decision and end up making any choice that I could regret someday," Epenesa said. "I know Iowa will be in it until the end. Growing up, I always wanted a Hawkeye offer, and pictured myself playing there. My dad had an amazing experience there, so that is potentially something we could share."
"The FSU offer really surprised me. They were one of the last schools I expected an offer from. I watched them a bunch on TV last year, and obviously their season was amazing. I also really like Utah. My uncle, Doug Elisaia is the strength and condition coach at the U, so I am pretty familiar with the program. I love the fact that there are so many Polynesians in the program out here. My family is originally from American Samoa, so the Poly connection is important to me."
"I don't know as much about Oklahoma and Wisconsin, but I know they win a lot of football games. There are not many programs out there that are better year in, year out than these two. I grew up watching a lot of Big Ten football, so Wisconsin is a big offer for me. Oklahoma is a powerhouse, so I will definitely check them out."
Epenesa's All-Poly coming out party is just the beginning for the talented defensive end. Illinois quarterbacks and running backs are going to become very familiar with the Edwardsville terror, as will college coaches across the country. There won't be too many prospects in the class of 2017 that are more heavily recruited than A.J. Epenesa.