A little more than a couple of years since he started playing football, Ansah has begun to tap into his vast potential. These days, NFL scouts are flocking to Provo to watch Ansah and learn more about him. ESPN commentators are gushing about his jaw-dropping burst into the backfield. Ansah's playing style has drawn comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants.
"While he remains a raw, unpolished player at this point, an NFC South scout described Ansah as an 'athletic freak' with unlimited upside," wrote NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks. "If he can continue to put flashes of dominance on tape over the course of the season, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ansah enjoy a late run up the charts heading into the 2013 NFL Draft."
Ansah's teammates appreciate the strides he's made.
"Ziggy has worked really, really hard," said linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "It's paying off for him. It's a lot of fun to see. He's a great kid. It's not just his speed, he's a rare combination of size and speed and aggressiveness. He's finally starting to understand. It's really fun. Every time he makes a play, we get juiced for him because he's put in a lot of hard work and he's come a long ways."
If nothing else, Ansah looks good in a uniform. It was no coincidence that the muscle-bound Ansah was chosen to model the black uniforms in videos promoting Saturday's "blackout" game against Oregon State.
"He's one of us. Everyone has a different path to getting here, and his is just another exclamation mark on our defense," said Van Noy. "All our stories are different, and all meshed together. He means a lot to our defense."
But in between the first day he walked into the BYU football office, and his current role as a starter on the Cougars' defensive line, there were long days and discouraging moments.
Mendenhall remembers his first meeting with Ansah.
"I said, 'I don't know you, I don't trust you and I don't know if you can even make it through a workout.' I certainly didn't believe he would play after watching him go through winter conditioning because he couldn't get enough oxygen to finish a drill. And it didn't look like he wanted to very bad. His English is kind of broken so he wasn't communicating very well. I was then thinking he wasn't interested or wasn't passionate about trying, but he kept showing up every day. I was wondering why. I never thought he would even make it to fall camp. He did, then we helped him put his stuff on and the rest is kind of history. Unlikely would be an understatement that he'd be at this point."
"It hasn't been easy for him," Tidwell said. "There have been times where injuries and soreness and trying to learn the culture of football — not only football, but coach Mendenhall's culture of football — and it's been tough."
Back in Ghana, a third-world nation located in West Africa, the naturally gifted Ansah played basketball and soccer.
He had no clue about American football.
Heck, that first day at BYU practices in 2010, Ansah didn't know how to put on his pads.
"I remember the first time I put on the helmet, somebody smacked me right away," Ansah remembered. "I was like, 'Oh man, this is going to be miserable.' My teammates helped me put on my stuff and I just went out there."
As a newcomer to the sport, Ansah learned everything from scratch.
"We do a drill call the pursuit drill. It's by far the hardest drill we do," said outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga. "He could only do one rep. He'd fall on the ground, pass out, and be lying on his back."
During Ansah's first fall camp, the team was going through the chow line and Tidwell happened to be on the opposite side of Ansah.
"Ziggy, are you having fun?" Tidwell asked.
"No, not yet," Ansah replied.
Tidwell asked Ansah that question every year during fall camp.
"This year, I asked him and he said, 'Yes.' It's been a long road for him," Tidwell said. "It's like learning a new language. Everything's new. You don't understand certain things and terminology. It's been fun to watch him progress and become the player that he is."
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