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5 things to know about defensive end A.J. Epenesa


The Bills addressed defense with their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft with defensive end A.J. Epenesa out of Iowa. Epenesa was a three-year starter and accounted for 26.5 sacks in his college career. He was named first team All-Big Ten in 2018 and 2019 and second team All-American (Associated Press) in 2019.

1. 22 sacks in two seasons

Epenesa has been a very productive power rusher for the Hawkeyes, particularly the last two seasons when he posted back-to-back double-digit sack seasons with 10.5 quarterback takedowns as a junior and 11.5 in his senior season. He became the first Iowa defensive player to accomplish that feat since Matt Roth did it in 2004. Roth was also a second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2005.

2. An athletic family

A.J. is not the only primo athlete in the Epenesa family. His parents were both college athletes at Iowa Wesleyan where they met. AJ's dad, Eppy, played defensive tackle for two years after emigrating from American Samoa. His mom, Stephanie, was a scholarship volleyball player. A.J.'s sister, Samantha was a three-year starter for Purdue's volleyball team and his younger brother is part of Iowa's 2020 recruiting class to play linebacker for the Hawkeyes this fall.

Scroll through to view photos of A.J. Epenesa, Buffalo's second-round pick at number 54 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Draft coverage is presented by ECMC.

3. NBA ties

Epenesa was a three-sport prep athlete. In addition to football, Buffalo's newest defensive lineman was also an accomplished basketball player averaging a double-double in high school, he played on the St. Louis Eagles AAU team and two of his teammates are currently in the NBA.

Boston Celtics start Jayson Tatum and former Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tyler Cook, who is currently playing in the G League.

Cook has always maintained that Epenesa was a better baller than him during their high school days.

4. He's a thrower

Not only does A.J. Epenesa toss pass protectors out of his way, he was also a pretty accomplished track and field athlete. Epenesa was a two-time state champion discus thrower in the state of Illinois setting a state record with a throw of 205 feet, 11 inches.

5. Culture on his arm

A.J. has tattoos all up and down his right arm. They are a representation of his Samoan family roots.

"The birds, the tortoise shells, the fish, the leaves," Epenesa told the Iowa Gazette. "All of these just have significant meaning in everyday life in the Samoan culture."

He also has his surname, Epenesa, emblazoned across his shoulder.

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