IOWA CITY — A.J. Epenesa says he is humble, and you believe him.

Epenesa, Iowa’s sophomore defensive end, was one of the nation’s top recruits when he signed with the Hawkeyes.

His teammates agree with his assessment.

“One of the most humble players I’ve been around,” defensive end Parker Hesse said.

“Yeah, he’s very definitely a humble kid,” defensive end Matt Nelson said. “He’s not going to be one of these, ‘I’m a five-star (recruit), I’m better than you.’ He’s willing to put in the work.”

That’s something Epenesa said has been taught to him by his parents.

“I’ve been humble my whole life, not have any kind of attention get to me,” Epenesa said. “That’s kind of what been impressed on me by my parents.

“I don’t want to change and be someone else. I’m A.J. I don’t want to be some other guy, who leaves to play college football and comes home a jerk.”

Epenesa doesn’t need to brag. It’s all about his play.

Consider a stretch in the second quarter of last Saturday’s 63-0 win at Illinois. Epenesa forced a fumble, then recovered the ball and raced in for a touchdown. He got a sack on Illinois’ next possession, then blocked a punt to set up another Iowa touchdown.

“We were kind of looking at each other like, ‘Geez, we better earn our keep around here,’” Hesse said, laughing.

“That’s just a glimpse of what he can do,” Nelson said.

Even that sequence couldn’t bring out the tiniest of brags.

“Just maintain my head, stay focused for the next play,” said Epenesa, who was selected the Big Ten’s co-defensive player of the week after Saturday’s game.

What has made Epenesa so good — he is tied for second in the Big Ten with 8 ½ sacks and has a team-high 13 ½ tackles for loss — is that he has followed the lead of players like Hesse and Nelson.

“Being able to learn from (Hesse) is something not everybody gets,” Epenesa said. “His experience kind of flows into me, and that’s been a extreme help.

“They’ve really carried me to where I am. Just being able to be around these guys is a blessing to me.”

“I think, A.J. would tell you this, it's been the perfect situation for A.J. where he hasn't had to go out there and maybe go through some of those things that Parker went through,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We've been able to pick his spots a little bit, and we're all seeing growth with him, which is exciting, because like some of the other guys we talked about he has a pretty good skill set. He's really starting to figure out the tempo now and really starting to play with a little bit more decisiveness and confidence.

“So when you have that going, it's fun to watch that stuff going on. And just think about this, too, think about how much he's learned from being next to Parker, sitting next to him in a room or rooming with him on the road, all those things that really are important things and the fun things about football.”

Iowa rotates its defensive linemen, but Epenesa said there isn’t a competition between the units to one-up each other.

“We motivate each other to be better,” Epenesa said. “I think whenever Parker makes a big play, I have to equal that or be better than that. We just kind of feed off each other.

“We’ve got to keep beating this guy. Give him the 1-2 punch. (Hesse will) go first and then I’ll come in.”

Epenesa remembered a quote Ferentz used the other day to describe Hesse.

“Hard work demands respect,” Epenesa said.

Epenesa’s work has certainly done that.