Amani Hooker and Ihmir Smith-Marsette Earn Postseason Awards; Hooker, Epenesa, Nelson Earn All-Defense Honors

By RossWB on November 27, 2018 at 7:41 pm
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© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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DBU strikes again. The Big Ten announced individual honors and All-Big Ten defensive teams on Tuesday and once again an Iowa player was named Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year. This year's honoree? None other than Amani Hooker: 

Hooker finished with 59 tackles (33 solo), 3.5 TFL, four interceptions, and seven passes broken up. His four interceptions tied for the lead among Big Ten defensive backs (Maryland linebacker Tre Watson actually led the conference with five picks), but otherwise Hooker didn't rank among the league leaders in any category. That said, anyone who watched Iowa's defense this year can attest to the incredibly high level that he played at and the value he provided to one of the conference's best defenses. He was renowned as Iowa's unofficial "defensive MVP" for good reason -- he did a good job of helping to organize and lead Iowa's defense and his tremendous football instincts and quick reactions helped him be in the right position at the right time on a regular basis. He was the best player Iowa has had at safety in a long, long time -- probably since Tyler Sash was patrolling Iowa's secondary. 

It's also interesting to note that Hooker won Defensive Back of the Year despite spending most of the year in a nontraditional role. He wasn't a perimeter cornerback and he wasn't a traditional safety; instead he played in a hybrid role as a nickel cornerback/outside linebacker for the vast majority of Iowa's season. While Hooker wasn't a traditional shutdown corner or a ball-hawking safety, there's no question that he was an excellent football player this year, so honoring him as the Defensive Back of the Year in the Big Ten seems well-earned. 

Hooker also continues Iowa's extraordinary history with this award, which they have absolutely owned in recent years. He's the third Iowa defensive back to win it in the last four years and the fourth in the eight years since the award was created. 

Josh Jackson won it in 2017, Desmond King won it in 2015, and Micah Hyde won it in 2012. Iowa dominates this award. All hail Phil Parker. 

Hooker wasn't the only Iowa player to win an individual award from the conference, either. Ihmir Smith-Marsette was named the Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year. 

Though he was unable to return a kick for a touchdown this year, Smith-Marsette was unfailingly consistent -- and excellent -- with his kick returns for Iowa. He routinely followed his blocks well and seemed to glide down the field. His 29.32 kick return average led the Big Ten and finished second nationally. His total kick return yards of 557 yards finished third in the Big Ten behind Purdue's Rondale Moore (599) and Minnesota's Demetrius Douglas (594). Smith-Marsette consistently gave Iowa strong field position with his returns, which is exactly what you want out of a kick returner. Smith-Marsette is the first Iowa player to win this award, which was created in 2015. It's particularly nice to see Iowa finally win this award, since it's partially named after an Iowa player -- the incomparable Tim Dwight. 

Finally, a handful of Iowa players also earned All-Big Ten honors. 

Amani Hooker was named first-team All Defense by the coaches and media. A.J. Epenesa was named first-team All Defense by the media, while the hatin' ass Big Ten coaches named him second-team. (Side note: this seems like very poor strategy on their part. Do they want to make Epy mad? Do they want to put a chip on his shoulder? That does not seem wise to me. Also, if you make him first-team this year and first-team next year, surely that increases the odds of him departing for the NFL and thus stopping his terrormonster ways against your hapless offensive tackles. Gotta think this through, Big Ten coaches.) Anthony Nelson was named second-team All Defense by the media and third-team All Defense by the coaches. 

Ihmir Smith-Marsette was named first-team All Big Ten return specialist by the media, but second-team All Big Ten return specialist by the hatin' ass (and dumb) coaches. (Rondale Moore was named first-team All-B1G return specialist by the coaches; he had 42 more kick return yards on 11 more kick returns as well as 82 return yards on 11 punt returns; meh, I say.) 

Jake Gervase, Matt Nelson, and Miguel Recinos earned honorable mention All Big Ten honors from the coaches, while Gervase, Nelson, Recinos, Parker Hesse, and Geno Stone earned honorable mention All Big Ten honors from the media. Whew.

It's especially gratifying to see the media recognize Epenesa as first-team All Big Ten, because he was absolutely awesome this year. Epy finished tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks (with Anthony Nelson and Minnesota's Carter Coughlin) with 9.5 and he was third in the league in tackles for loss with 15.5. He was also tied for second in the league (and tops among DL) in forced fumbles with three. His 8 QB hurries was tied for third in the league (with Northwestern's Joe Gaziano), behind Michigan State's Kenny Willekes (12) and Ohio State's Chase Young (9). And he had a fumble recovery, a touchdown, and a blocked punt, too. NBD. 

Oh, and he did all that while playing less than half of Iowa's defensive snaps this season: 

Epy was a monster this year and Iowa kept him locked up half the damn game. We can debate the merits of that (it likely kept him fresher, especially late in games and at the end of the season; on the other hand, he was an absolute stud and even Epy at 75% is probably enough to give B1G offensive tackles panic sweats), but his production speaks for itself. And next year the snap count issue will be moot -- with Parker Hesse gone, Epenesa will have full reign to wreak havoc from the defensive end position all game long. Is it next September yet? 

A full list of the defensive award winners and All Big Ten honorees is available here. (Offensive award winners and All Big Ten honorees will be announced on Wednesday, November 28.) Congratulations to all of the Iowa players who were honored today; outside of a few hiccups, Iowa's defense was excellent this season and guys like Hooker, Epy, the Nelsons, Geno Stone, and Jake Gervase were a big reason why. Well done to you all. 

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