Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PROVO — Right away, Leonard Myles-Mills saw potential in the imposing, soft-spoken stranger standing before him, and he decided to do something about it.
The way Myles-Mills likes to tell it, one day a few years ago, Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah walked into his office on BYU's campus, where Myles-Mills serves as an assistant track coach. Myles-Mills' first impression of Ansah?
"I looked at him, and I said, 'Holy smokes!' "
The 6-foot-6 Ansah introduced himself and told him he was from Accra, Ghana, and Myles-Mills could relate. Myles-Mills is also a native of Ghana, having arrived at BYU on a track scholarship in the mid-1990s. During their conversation, Ansah told him he would like to try out for the track team.
Myles-Mills figured that would be a good idea, and it didn't take long for him to notice Ansah's speed, strength and athleticism.
"What can I do with him?" Myles-Mills wondered. "I thought he'd be a decathlete. But what about the pole vault? He's going to break every pole we have."
During the indoor track season, Myles-Mills had Ansah run a sprint against other athletes, with less-than-favorable results. "He was so big, he hit the guy to his right and bumped him off his lane. After the race, I told him, 'You can't do that. This is track and field.' "
Myles-Mills hadn't seen someone with Ansah's size run like he could — clocking at 21.9 seconds in the 200 meters.
"I asked him if he would like to play football," Myles-Mills recalled. "He was hesitant at first because he didn't know much about it."
Before arriving in the United States in 2008 to attend BYU, Ansah had never seen a football, let alone watched a football game.
But Myles-Mills took matters into his own hands.
"I told him, 'As much as I'd like to help you, you need to play football.' I literally held his hand and walked him up there to the (BYU) football office and dropped him off like child being left at a day care," Myles-Mills said. "I told the coaches, 'You guys have him. He's all yours.' "
In the football office that day was assistant coach Paul Tidwell, who oversees the walk-on program. Tidwell immediately recognized that Ansah looked like a football player, straight out of Central Casting.
"Obviously, my eyes were big and I welcomed him," Tidwell said. "I sat down with him, mapped out the plan, how it works, and what he needed to do. Man, he's become a diamond in the rough."
In just a few short years, Ziggy Ansah, now a senior, has gone from a football novice to a player that's now on scholarship, and many are projecting that he'll play in the National Football League.
"Ziggy's a remarkable story," coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "For this season to go by without acknowledging that three years ago he didn't know how to put on his gear — to now literally he's the talk on the West Coast of almost every NFL team and scout that comes through — you could make a movie about it at some point."
Though the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Ansah picked up football relatively quickly, he is no overnight sensation. It's only recently that he's been recognized as a force on the football field.
In the Cougars' 6-3 victory over Utah State last Friday night, Ansah was dominant, recording five tackles, three tackles-for-loss and two quarterback sacks and two quarterback hurries.
"Ziggy didn't just sack (Aggie quarterback Chuckie Keeton)," said Cougar linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who is Ansah's roommate. "He wrapped him up, swallowed him, and dumped him on his head."
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