Early signing day ’22: Juco linebacker who grew up in UNI’s back yard excited to join Missouri Valley rival Western Illinois

Iowa Central Community College linebacker Noah Epley (17) was the second-leading tackler last season for a team that won seven games, including its 12th consecutive bowl victory. (Photo by ICTritons.com)

By Barry Bottino

Having grown up about 10 miles outside Cedar Falls, Iowa, Noah Epley is quite familiar with the University of Northern Iowa’s UNI-Dome.

Iowa high schools play numerous playoff games in the dome, and on Dec. 4, Epley helped his Iowa Central Community College team win the Game One Bowl at UNI’s home field.

That same day, he got an offer from Western Illinois to continue his college career in the same conference as UNI – the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

“I feel like they’ve got a good thing started (at Western) after a rough season this past year,” he said. “It’s going to be a great opportunity to come in on the upswing. I’m excited for that.”

Epley was part of WIU’s 21-member recruiting class to sign letters of intent Dec. 21, including seven linebackers.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Epley is the most experienced of the incoming linebackers and will be counted on for a defense that lost three of its top five tacklers from this fall’s 0-11 team.

“I’ve played inside and outside, so versatility is something that is a strength of my game,” Epley said. “At Western Illinois, they’ll probably have me play more inside. But if I had to switch, it wouldn’t be a big deal.”

Nick Naujokas

Among the six prep linebackers signed by the Leathernecks, two headliners are 6-1, 210-pound Nick Naujokas of Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School, which won the Class 7A state title, and Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin’s Cory West (6-1, 200), who helped the Griffins win the Class 4A championship.

According to a WIU press release, West led the state in total tackles with 192.

Longtime Illinois prep recruiting analyst “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran said Naujokas was part of a linebacking corps that “was one of the best I’ve seen.”

“(He has) really good speed and he’s going to get bigger and stronger,” O’Halloran said. “I definitely feel he was underrecruited.”

Having started at both linebacker spots at Iowa Central, Epley said he prides himself on being a good communicator on the field. “I like to make sure everyone is on the same page,” he said.

Over the holidays, plenty of Epley’s family members noticed that Western plays at UNI on Nov. 4.

“That one is already circled on my calendar,” he said. “I’ll be excited for that. During Christmas, all my family was telling me that they’re excited for it already, too.”

A week earlier, Southern Illinois visits Western in a reunion of Epley and two former Iowa Central teammates who signed with SIU – wide receiver Cal Weidemann and tight end Colton Hoag.

“I told Cal, ‘Be careful coming across the middle because we’re not teammates anymore,’” Epley joked. “That will be fun to see them and talk to them.”

One response to “Early signing day ’22: Juco linebacker who grew up in UNI’s back yard excited to join Missouri Valley rival Western Illinois”

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