IOWA CITY – Four University of Iowa football student-athletes — junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa, junior wide receiver and return specialist Ihmir Smith-Marsette, junior offensive lineman Alaric Jackson, and junior offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs — were named to Athlon Sports’ preseason All-America Team.
Epenesa and Smith-Marsette, as a return specialist, were named to the first team. Jackson was a second-team selection, while Wirfs was a fourth-team selection.
Epenesa (6-foot-6, 280 pounds) was previously named a preseason first-team All-Big Ten selection by Athlon Sports and to the 2019 Lott IMPACT Trophy Watch List. Last season, he led the Big Ten Conference and ranked 12th nationally with 10.5 sacks to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors. As a sophomore, he totaled 37 stacks with 16.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, four pass break-ups, and one fumble recovery.
Epenesa, a native of Glen Carbon, Illinois, was one of five finalists for Polynesian Player of the Year in 2018. He was named co-Defensive Player of the Week in the Big Ten for his play in wins over Illinois and Iowa State.
Smith-Marsette (6-1, 177), a native of Newark, New Jersey, was previously named an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-Big Ten selection as a return specialist. He was named the Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year in the Big Ten last season. He led the Big Ten and ranked second in the nation in kickoff return average (29.5). He was 12th in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards and set an Outback Bowl record with 150 yards in kickoff returns in Iowa’s 27-22 win over No. 18 Mississippi State. He also recorded 23 receptions for 361 yards and three touchdowns in 2018.
Jackson (6-7, 320) is a native of Detroit and earned preseason first team All-Big Ten honors by Athlon Sports. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors a year ago. He has started 12 straight games at left tackle, helping the Hawkeye offense average 31.2 points per game last season. He has started 24 games in two seasons.
Wirfs (6-5, 320) was previously named to the Athlon Sports preseason All-Big Ten second team. He started 12 straight games at right tackle a year ago and has 20 starts in his two seasons. The native of Mount Vernon, Iowa, earned honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition last season.
The Hawkeyes open the 2019 season Aug. 31, hosting Miami, Ohio.