BYU football: No longer a football novice, Ziggy Ansah has NFL potential

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

Ansah started out on special teams, and then learned how to play with the defense.

"I thought he could become something special," said Tidwell. "There were times when you'd see bits and pieces and say, 'Wow.' On kickoff cover, for example, he could not be blocked. He's run over two or three people getting down field. He didn't always make the play, but he was fast and physical and tough and nobody could block him. Then you put him in the game and he'd make a mistake. Then other times you'd think, 'This kid is going to be special.' It was a growing period."

Last spring, Mendenhall mentioned "NFL" and "Ansah" in the same sentence, prompting skeptical reactions from some reporters and fans. Ansah was expected to be a backup outside linebacker when the season started, but due to some injuries on the defensive line, he has found a home there. Through six games, Ansah has 27 tackles, including 8.5-for-loss, three sacks and three pass breakups.

So far this fall, Ansah seems to be proving he has the ability to play after college.

Invariably, people compare Ansah's story to the movie "The Blind Side," which chronicles the improbable rise of Michael Oher from homeless kid that didn't know much about football to first-round NFL draft pick.

Among the obvious differences, of course, is that Oher protects quarterbacks. Ansah devours them.

Ezekiel Ansah's football journey began when he joined the LDS Church at age 19.

An LDS family that he knew in Ghana encouraged him to listen to the missionaries and he did. Ansah was impressed with the family, their good moral values and their unity.

After three or four months, Ansah chose to be baptized, though some in his family opposed that decision.

"It wasn't easy joining the Church," he said. "My siblings weren't too happy with me. My parents just told me if I thought it was right for me, I should do it."

Ansah wanted to come to the United States and go to college. The missionaries who taught him asked what his career plans were. He told them he wanted to play in the NBA, like his favorite player, LeBron James.

In Ghana, Ansah loved basketball and played for Presbyterian Boys' Secondary School.

"You want to play in the NBA?" the missionaries asked. "You're in the wrong place. You need to go to BYU."

The missionaries helped Ansah submit his application papers to BYU, and he was accepted.

Even before he tried out for the track and football teams, Ansah tried out for the BYU basketball team twice. He was cut twice, but he made an impression, recording a vertical leap of 39 inches. Ansah reportedly can touch the rim with his elbow.

"Obviously, that didn't work out too good for me," Ansah said of his hoops tryout. "I love the sport, but it didn't work out. There's a good reason why they didn't choose me."

Apparently, he was destined to play football instead.

Yet Ansah is not just your average jock. He is majoring in actuarial science with a minor in math.

"He's a very brilliant student, a really smart kid," said Myles-Mills. "I asked him how he did in school one semester and he said he had a 3.3 or 3.4 GPA and he said he didn't do very well. He's very ambitious. He wants to do well in school. That is No. 1 for him."

Ansah learned to speak English in Ghana, and he also speaks Twi and Fante, two local Ghanaian dialects. His favorite food is fufu and peanut butter soup, a Ghanaian delicacy.

Those who know him describe him as quiet and fun-loving.

"He's a very funny kid," said Myles-Mills. "He looks very serious when he's coming at you. He's like a big teddy bear — really tough on the outside, soft on the inside. That's the humility that comes with his attitude."

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