Edwardsville High School senior defensive end AJ Epenesa made a deeper impression on college recruiters on a national stage Saturday.
The University of Iowa commit recorded two tackles at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, and drew big-time praise from the NBC broadcasters who covered the game.
“I’d be shocked if Edwardsville (Ill.) High five-star AJ Epenesa doesn’t start as a true freshman for Iowa,” wrote Steven Wiltfong, director of scouting for 247Sports, which ranks Epenesa as the sixth-best prospect overall in the nation.
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive end likely bolstered his stock in San Antonio.
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“Epenesa could develop into the best player in this 2017 recruiting class,” Wiltfong added in his column last week.
Epenesa also ranks as one of the top basketball players in the St. Louis region. He currently leads the area in rebounds with an average of 14.7 per game. He’s also averaging 14 points.
The Tigers have had to make due without Epenesa since winning the championship game of the Collinsville-Prairie Farms Holiday Classic as he prepared for the All-America game. Edwardsville has managed wins over East St. Louis and O’Fallon in his absence and, at 13-1, is ranked No. 3 in Illinois Class 4A by The Associated Press.
Epenesa will return to the court for the Tigers’ Southwestern Conference game Friday at Alton, then depart to play in another All-Star football game, the Polynesian Bowl, on Jan. 21 at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii. He’ll miss games against Belleville West and Gateway Tech in St. Louis.
“A.J. is a good guy. A.J. is a great guy,” Tigers coach Mike Waldo said Friday after his team’s 75-58 victory over visiting O’Fallon. “You couldn’t ask for a better teammate and we’re happy for him getting to play. We just had to make some adjustments without him here, and I think that will help us as the year goes on.
“You don’t want him to foul, but he might, and then we’ll have to be ready to play a different way. I think that’s helped us this week.”