Rhashaun Epting’s path to stardom hasn’t been like the way he rushes the quarterback, quick and aggressive.
Epting actually hasn’t reached what he would consider stardom. His journey, which continues with New Mexico, has included twists, turns and life-changing decisions.
“I’m honestly just getting started right now,” said Epting, a redshirt sophomore outside linebacker who is eighth in the nation in sacks with 5½. He’s the only sophomore among the top 20 individual sack leaders in the nation.
UNM will need Epting to continue to reach for his peak Saturday when the Lobos (3-2, 1-0 in Mountain West Conference) play at Colorado State (2-4, 1-1) in the Rams’ homecoming game that starts at 2 p.m.
“He’s a guy, who as he matures, has a pretty good upside,” Davie said of Epting, who had one sack in New Mexico’s 50-14 win at UNLV last Saturday. “He has to get bigger and stronger to reach his full potential. He’s not near what his full potential is.”
At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Epting admits he needs to get bigger. He has lofty goals of playing in the NFL and big dreams of being selected within the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.
He knows he’ll need to work hard and never waver. It appears he has found his home with the Lobos, but that didn’t seem to be the case after last season.
Epting, much like UNM, didn’t end 2017 on a positive note, Davie said.
“Rhashaun was thinking about transferring,” Davie said. “We had conversations at the end of the season. I knew he was teetering on transferring. We weren’t going to talk him into staying, but I definitely was going to show him the direction of (the outside linebacker) position with a coach specific to that position and the personality of a guy like Archie (McDaniel), who played the position.”
Davie said there had been one linebackers coach for the 3-4 defense, but after last season he added a new coaching spot for outside linebackers and re-hired McDaniel to fill that role. McDaniel had coached at SMU for three seasons and prior to that was on Davie’s staff at UNM for three years.
The first job Davie assigned McDaniel was to call Epting and just talk to him.
Epting soon became excited about his role and contributing to the Lobos’ defense.
“Having coach Archie, it really helps,” Epting said. “From last year to this year, I can see that he has helped.”
Last year wasn’t the only time Epting had confronted a crossroads in his path.
After excelling in football and basketball at Proviso West High School in Chicago, Epting had committed to play for Western Michigan. But Epting said he had heard rumors that Western Michigan’s coach at the time, P.J. Fleck, expected to leave, which he eventually did, for Minnesota. Epting de-committed and took UNM’s offer just three weeks before Signing Day.
Western Michigan had plans for Epting to play tight end. But he was excited to play defense for the Lobos.
“I’ve always been an athlete,” Epting said. “If I had to play tight end I would do that and still want to stand out doing that. Defense was a perfect opportunity for me, in the 3-4 defense, as a rush ‘backer. I didn’t have to be that heavy. I could still rush the passer and drop into coverage. And, it’s a prototypical NFL position that GMs look for, which is also a good thing and very beneficial.”
Epting said he would like to see how he can perform at 230-235 pounds. It will be difficult for him to add the weight. He actually dropped weight over the summer because he wanted to be trim.
“I had a gut,” he said. “I went on a Herbalife diet and trimmed it down.”
Epting said he sees a bit of a six-pack developing, the muscles showing on his abdomen. He wants to look good and feel good. He knows that will also come with more sacks and more Lobo wins.