It didn’t take long for AJ Epenesa to get his first sack.
On the first drive of his second NFL game, he ran down Jeff Goff on a rollout play and made the tackle just before Goff got to the sideline. It was, of course, a big moment for the rookie.
The first thing he did after the game? Call mom and dad.
“They were just ecstatic,” Epenesa said. “They has some family friends over to the house back home in Illinois. I know they had a good time and they were extremely excited.”
Matt Milano followed Epenesa’s sack with one of his own on the next snap. The back to back losses forced the Rams into a long field goal try that was missed. It turned out to be a huge pair of plays considering the Bills won by only three points.
Epenesa was not even active and in uniform for the Bills season opener against the Jets. He was not discouraged at all to sit out week one and thought it was a “motivational thing”.
“I didn’t have preseason. I didn’t have OTAs. I didn’t have rookie mini-camp. The list goes on of all the things this rookie class was unable to do,” Epenesa said. “Week one, game one… maybe it wasn’t time to go in yet and I just needed another week of preparation. I used it to help keep me pushing harder for the next week.”
The extra week of prep helped Epenesa learn the defense a bit better and get his conditioning ready to handle NFL caliber opposition. He said the “physical” part of the transition from college–the bigger, faster players–has been the hardest part.
Epenesa admitted he had never even watched a Bills game before being drafted. He did meet Bills defensive line coach Eric Washington during the draft process, but the rest of his education on the franchise and its current roster happened after he was selected by Buffalo.
With so many veterans on the defensive line–especially at defensive end–Epenesa probably did not see an opportunity for extended playing time. In a situation where the chance to learn was significantly truncated by Covid-19, the experience around Epenesa has actually been a blessing.
“I’ve been very lucky to not have OTAs and not have rookie mini-camp, but still have the resources such as Jerry (Hughes), Mario (Addison), Trent (Murphy),” Epenesa said. “They’ve been very helpful. Everyone is helping each other.”
Epenesa said it was “crazy” to finally get on the field for his first NFL game in week two at Miami.
“Competing with guys you used to see on TV growing up, it’s something special,” he said. “It meant a whole lot to me.”
As it probably did to his parents.