SOLON — Prior to Friday night, Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end A.J. Epenesa had never touched a hay bale. Friday, he was chucking 60-pound hay bales 12 feet in the air.
It was part of the Solon Beef Days hay bale toss, an annual tradition organized by former Hawkeye and NFL offensive lineman Matt Kroul.
Epenesa and Kroul weren’t the only people to don black and gold in downtown Solon. The event served as a team bonding opportunity for Epenesa and fellow teammates Tyler Linderbaum and Colten Rastetter.
Rastetter said the Hawkeyes were supposed to have more athletes there, but the hot weather was a deterrent for some players. Instead of three players, he said they were supposed to have “six or eight.”
The Hawkeyes chucked it with ease through the first few rounds. Even Rastetter, a punter, made it until the 11-foot, 6-inch round despite frequent jokes from Kroul on the microphone about a punter competing with linemen.
“It was fun to show, ‘Hey we (punters) are people too,’” Rastetter said.
Then the issues came at the 12-foot-6 height. Epenesa, who tossed the 60-pound bales earlier like he was tossing a football, couldn’t get it over.
Linderbaum, a Solon native, finished in third and was the only Hawkeye to finish on the podium.
Epenesa and the other Hawkeyes got one-upped by an athlete from the school an hour north on Interstate 380. Keegan Tritle, a track-and-field athlete from Northern Iowa, launched the hay bale 13 feet, 6 inches to take the title.
Tritle has plenty of previous experience, growing up on a farm in Lisbon, but he hadn’t chucked a hay bale since he arrived at Northern Iowa. He said he didn’t expect to win it.
The Hawkeyes aren’t necessarily dwelling on the loss, though. “We’re all from Iowa, so it’s no big deal,” Rastetter said.
Epenesa said the environment of fans around them made the event special despite their early shortfalls.
“It’s a lot of fun seeing the whole community around, cheering us on at something like this,” Epenesa said. “You don’t see this anywhere else than Iowa.”
Amanda Owens, 32, won the women’s division, marking her second first-place finish in the last three years. She wanted to compete last year, but she was six months pregnant.
“I couldn’t really even walk,” Owens said.
Two years ago, she tied for first. Now with her 7-month-old daughter, Daphne, in her arms, the Cedar Rapids resident is a hay bale toss champion again.
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