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Amani Hooker Named Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year Award, Ihmir Smith-Marsette named Returner of the Year

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Two others were all-conference and many received honorable mention!

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten Conference’s defensive and special teams accolades for football were announced on Monday evening, and a slew of Hawkeyes earned nods, including Amani Hooker, AJ Epenesa, Anthony Nelson, and Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

Of course, the biggest nod went to Hooker, as he’s the fourth Hawkeye in the past seven seasons to win the Tatum-Woodson award, given to the most outstanding defensive back in the Big Ten each season. Josh Jackson won the award in 2017, Desmond King won it in 2015, and Micah Hyde was the recipient of the award in 2012.

After a standout sophomore season that saw him intercept two passes, Hooker really upped his game as a junior, picking off a team-high four passes and defending seven passes. He also totaled 59 tackles, second on the team, including three tackles for loss and a sack. Despite playing the majority of the season as a safety, Hooker really saw his role expand when injuries started to plague the Iowa defense, and he was often used as a hybrid safety-linebacker or nickel corner, allowing Geno Stone to slide into his safety position.

Along with being named Defensive Back of the Year, Hooker was named first-team all-Big Ten by the media and coaches.

Never one to be outshined, Ihmir Smith-Marsette was named the B1G Rodgers-Dwight Returner of the Year, given to the most outstanding kick/punt returner in the conference. One of the flashiest and most entertaining weapons on this Iowa team, Smith-Marsette shined as Iowa’s primary kick returner, averaging 29.3 yards per return on 19 returns, good for second in the nation. He was second in the conference in total return yards, but also averaged five more yards per return than the Big Ten’s leader, which shows just how dangerous he was. ISM is the first Hawkeye to ever win the Rodgers-Dwight Returner of the Year, named in part for former Iowa receiver/returnman Tim Dwight.

Along with this honor, Smith-Marsette was named first-team return specialist by the media and second-team by the coaches.


Now for the remainder of the all-Big Ten awards.

AJ Epenesa was named first-team all-Big Ten by the media and second-team all-conference by the coaches. Epenesa tied for the team lead in sacks with 9.5 on the season while accumulating 35 tackles and 15.5 tackles for loss. Most of these stats, of course, came while he was used primarily as a pass rush specialist, so it’s nice to see him being recognized for his play despite being on the field less often than many other defensive ends in the conference.

Oh, and his highlight tape is pretty good:

Of course, we have to mention the guy who tied Epenesa for the team lead in sacks - Anthony Nelson. Nelson was named second-team all-confence by the media and to the third-team by the coaches, which feels downright disrespectful. The junior finished the season with 41 tackles, 11 for loss, and one fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.

Last but not least, we have some honorable mention guys. The coaches and media named Jake Gervase, Miguel Recinos, and Matt Nelson as honorable mentions, while the media also named Parker Hesse and Geno Stone as honorable mentions. You probably could’ve made the case that some of these guys deserved to make one of the actual teams (particularly Stone, who tied for the team lead with four INTs, Hesse, Iowa’s sportsmanship award winner, and Nelson, who was second on the team in pass breakups AS A DT), but it’s great to see these guys rewarded for the excellent season.

On Tuesday, the Big Ten offensive awards will be announced. Expect to see a few Hawkeyes on that list as well!

Go Hawks, and congrats to the defense on another phenomenal season!