I'm still learning. I'm not at a 10 yet, but I'm getting close. —BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
Is Ezekiel Ansah turning heads?
It's like watching a tennis match.
The senior, come-from-nowhere BYU defensive end is attracting attention. He's getting legitimate looks from NFL scouts. He's no longer just a good story, he's a great story. He's gone from a nifty novelty to a mainstay on one of the nation's top-ranked defenses.
It wasn't supposed to be. I had my doubts in the guy heading into fall camp — that he'd ever become a player or just a guy called Ziggy who looked like he could play but couldn't.
I was wrong.
"I never even thought about playing this game growing up as a kid," said Ansah, who was born up in Accra, Ghana, and didn't take up the game until 2010 as a sophomore track athlete at BYU.
He's a guy who had to be shown how to put on his equipment three years ago. He walked around as an anomaly, a big guy who looked like an NFL tight end or defensive end, but didn't know how to fight off a block or make a tackle. Bronco Mendenhall had his doubts. He didn't think Ansah could get through a workout or drill, let alone actually play the game.
Now he's got ESPN commentators gushing over the plays he makes. He's drawing double teams from Boise State, a game in which he had career highs in several categories.
"He'll play on Sunday," predicts Cougar linebacker Spencer Hadley.
"He is very special, a very special player," according to freshman defensive end Bronson Kaufusi. "When I get in the game and get to play with him, it's an absolute blast, a lot of fun."
"Yes, NFL scouts are looking at him, asking about him, trying to find out things about him," according to his coach and the BYU staff liaison to NFL scouts, Steve Kaufusi. "They ask about all our seniors, including him. They want to know about his work ethic, where he came from, his character and those kinds of things because they can see he has talent."
From nowhere to this?
I asked Kaufusi to describe Ansah's climb and current state with the game as the Cougars head into a showdown with Utah State on Friday night.
"Where is he? He's starting for us right now, that's where he is," Kaufusi said. "And he's excelling, finding his confidence."
Ansah says he's making progress. When asked to rate himself on the scale of 1 to 10, a 10 being not perfect but outstanding, he didn't know quite what to say.
"I'm still learning," Ansah said. "I'm not at a 10 yet, but I'm getting close."
At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, Ansah has been timed at 10.9 seconds for 100 meters and 21.9 seconds for the 200. Nobody's ever put a stopwatch on him for 40 yards, a key football measuring stick. But that's coming. It is that kind of speed, combined with his build, reach and body type, that is attracting attention from the NFL.
Coach Kaufusi says the thing that stands out to NFL guys is that Ansah hasn't scratched the surface of his abilities in football because of his lack of experience with the game.
"That is a huge upside for him because of what they see as his potential," Kaufusi said. "They like his body type and his skills. On film, his athleticism is something you can't teach."
Kaufusi has seen Ansah play on the defensive line and learn the outside linebacker position. He's had to gobble up a lot of information, formations and roles, and he's done it well.
Still, the best part of this guy's game is that he remains humble. It may all be new to him but he takes direction and works hard. From day one, he worked hard to go through drills, albeit almost passing out, and he endured and persevered.
Offensive line coach Mark Weber has seen Ansah work across the line from his own players every day in practice for the past three years. Weber says Ansah is the real deal.
"Ziggy is an incredible athlete, a big athlete who has an incredible upside, and he's improving," Weber said. "I see him improve every day out here. He does freakish things and in games you catch him doing incredible things and he's learning this game very fast.
"I think that's why he's turning some heads because he's just getting into this game and understanding what it's all about. He's an exciting player to say the least."
You take a name like that, put it with a character like this? Well, you just can't make up this kind of story.