Monday's Hawkeye Huddle had its usual cheers, but also some tears

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Former Iowa defensive lineman Eppy Epenesa speaks to the fans at Monday's Hawkeye Huddle

By Pat Harty

TAMPA, Fla. – Eppy Epenesa was addressing fans at the Hawkeye Huddle on Monday when his voice started to crack with emotion.

The former Iowa defensive lineman already had done his part to motivate the fans in preparation for Tuesday’s game against No. 18 Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl when he made a request.

“I just want to request that all Iowa fans please pray for our Driscoll family,’ Epenesa said in reference to his close friend and former Hawkeye teammate, Ryan Driscoll, who died of a heart attack earlier this month. “Ryan Driscoll is one of the best persons I met at Iowa.

“So pray for his family and go Hawks.”

Ryan Driscoll grew up in Cedar Rapids and played quarterback for Iowa from 1993 to 1996 under Hayden Fry. He and Eppy Epenesa became close friends after Epenesa had transferred from Iowa Wesleyan College to the University of Iowa because he wanted to play at a higher level in college.

They stayed close over the years, and it was obvious on Monday that Driscoll’s sudden passing has greatly impacted Eppy Epenesa.

The Hawkeye Huddle is usually filled with cheers, but Monday’s event also included some tears as Epenesa showed the true meaning of the Hawkeye spirit.

Tuesday’s game is obviously a huge deal, but it still is just a game, and listening to Epenesa pay tribute to Driscoll helped put that in perspective.

The decision to transfer to Iowa changed the course of Eppy Epenesa’s life and he will forever be grateful for that.

Eppy’s love for the Hawkeyes played a key role in convincing his son, sophomore defensive end A.J. Epenesa, to play for Iowa.

A.J. Epenesa had his pick of schools as a five-star recruit, but he was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps.

And fans are thrilled that he did because A.J. Epenesa has proven to be as good as advertised. He was named first-team All-Big Ten this season despite not being a starter.

Eppy Epenesa wore Driscoll’s jersey No. 7 to the Hawkeye Huddle on Monday. He was accompanied on stage by his wife, Stephanie, and their two youngest sons.

A.J. Epenesa chose to wear No. 94 at Iowa in honor of former Iowa All-Big Ten defensive lineman Jared DeVries, who is one of Eppy Epenesa’s best friends, along with Driscoll. The three of them shared a tight bond in college that grew stronger over the years.

In fact, A.J. Epenesa’s middle name is Jared in honor of Jared DeVries.

“Eppy, it’s great to have you here and thanks for bringing your son to Iowa,” said Iowa radio play-by-play announcer Gary Dolphin, who served as the emcee for Monday’s event.

The parents of Iowa All-America tight end T.J. Hockenson also were invited on stage as fans yelled “one more year” in hopes that T.J. will choose to return to Iowa as a fourth-year junior instead of declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft.

T.J. Hockenson said he plans to announce his decision shortly after the Outback Bowl. The Chariton native leads Iowa with 46 catches and 717 receiving yards.

He also won the John Mackey Award, which goes to the nation’s top collegiate tight end.

Former Iowa tight end Noah Fant already has declared for the NFL Draft and will not play in the Outback Bowl.

Iowa will be making its 32nd bowl game appearance on Tuesday and its sixth appearance in the Outback Bowl.

Kirk Ferentz has been Iowa’s head coach in all six appearances in the Outback Bowl.

Tampa has sort of become a home away from home for the Iowa football team and for its devoted fan base.

That was apparent again on Monday as fans flocked to the Hawkeye Huddle.