He doesn't talk like one of the best football players in America. In fact, A.J. Epenesa seems almost embarrassed to be doing this interview at all. Not because his first official start at Iowa came just a few weeks ago. But because Epenesa can do without it all. The attention. The interest. The NFL mock drafts projecting him in the top 10 next spring (OK, he admits. He is slightly curious). And yes, this interview.
He looks the part, though. That isn't up for debate as Epenesa eases his 6'6", 280-pound body—the kind of body built for taking down quarterbacks—into an office chair near his team's cafeteria. He says he models his game after J.J. Watt's, and it takes only a few seconds to understand why.
Epenesa is wearing a gray Iowa shirt, black shorts and brown sandals, with a beard that is just kempt enough. The tattoo that blankets his right arm—a magnificently detailed tribute to his Samoan heritage that, to date, has taken 15 hours to create, with more hours still left to go—dips below his sleeve and past his elbow.
Despite having reservations about publicity and the press, his answers are thoughtful. He is smooth and open—more so than most can't-miss football prospects. Yes, he has done everything possible to avoid the spotlight, but it's not because he dislikes meeting people. It's because throughout his life, he's never wanted it to be about him.