Keith Duncan and A.J. Epenesa, two Iowa football players who dominated from their positions, were recognized among the Big Ten’s best Tuesday.
Duncan, who leads the nation in field goals, was named the Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year in the Big Ten and joined Epenesa in earning first-team all-conference recognition from both league coaches and media.
Illinois’ Blake Hayes, a junior punter, was named the Big Ten-Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year, the first Illini to win the award that carries the name of former Illinois standout Dike Eddleman and Michigan State’s Brandon Fields.
Epenesa received first-team honors for the second straight season, a first for a Hawkeye defensive end since Adrian Clayborn was named to the first team in 2009-10, while Duncan is the first Iowa kicker to earn first-team honors since Nate Kaeding in 2003.
"All of the guys on our kicking team have been on top of it all season. Whatever I’ve been able to do is a result of Jackson (Subbert, the long snapper) and Colten (Rastetter, the holder) and all the guys up front doing their jobs as well as they have," Duncan said.
A junior from Weddington, North Carolina, Duncan is the first Hawkeye to receive the kicker of the year award first presented by the Big Ten in 2011 and named after kickers Jim Bakken of Wisconsin and Morten Andersen of Michigan State.
During the Hawkeyes’ 9-3 season, he established Iowa and Big Ten records with 29 made field goals in 34 attempts. He is also perfect in 25 PAT attempts.
Hayes averaged 44.8 yards per attempt this season, the second-best average in Fighting Illini history. He placed 28 punts inside the 20-yard line and had 20 punts of 50 or more yards.
Hayes received first-team all-Big Ten honors from both coaches and media, joined on the first team selected by the media by linebacker Dele Harding.
Epenesa has been the leader of a defense that has been a collaborative effort, collectively ranking in the top 20 nationally in scoring, passing and total defense.
The Glen Carbon, Illinois, native has 45 tackles on the season and the junior leads Iowa with nine sacks, 13 tackles for a loss, nine quarterback pressures and three forced fumbles.
Two other Hawkeyes, junior safety Geno Stone and senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia, earned spots on the all-Big Ten teams as well. Coaches named Stone to the second team while Ojemudia was awarded second-team honors by the media and named to the third team by coaches.
Harding, who has tallied 147 tackles and three interceptions, was also named by the coaches to the third team, on which he was joined by defensive back Sydney Brown and returner Dre Brown. Defensive end Oluwole Betiku Jr. was named to the media's third team for the Illini.
Stone had 65 tackles tackles, three tackles for a loss, three pass break-ups, two forced fumbles, one interception and one sack while Ojemudia led Iowa with three interceptions in addition to recording 47 tackles and seven pass break-ups.
Four additional Hawkeyes received honorable mention. Defensive end Chauncey Golston and senior linebacker Kristian Welch were recognized by coaches and the media, defensive tackle Cedrick Lattimore was honored by the coaches and punter Michael Sleep-Dalton was recognized by the media.
The Big Ten recognized Ohio State defensive end Chase Young as its Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year, with coach of the year honors split. The media gave the Dave McClain Coach of the Year Award to first-year Ohio State coach Ryan Day. Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck received the Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year Award from his peers.
The Big Ten splits the announcement of its all-conference honors over two days and will recognize its top offensive players Wednesday.