Jeff Benedict: Sports Illustrated to profile football odyssey of BYU's 'Ziggy' Ansah
Destiny seemed to point 'Ziggy' Ansah toward BYU — and maybe an NFL career
The fact is that the football odyssey of Ziggy is a modern-day Book of Mormon story. Five years ago, Ziggy was an Anglican in Africa who had never seen American football, much less played it. Today, he is a Mormon in America who has a chance to do what the vast majority of college football players only dream of — getting paid to play their sport.
Mormonism, it turns out, was Ziggy's pathway to the gridiron. Ken Frei, a BYU student from Idaho Falls, baptized Ziggy while on a mission in Ghana. But for that, Ziggy doesn't discover America's secular religion — football.
After baptizing Ziggy, Frei encouraged him to attend BYU. Six months later, Ziggy was rooming with Frei in Provo. Frei took Ziggy to his first football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Eventually, Ziggy walked on. That's part of the story I tell in Sports Illustrated.
Another element of the SI story is the unsung role of Van Noy. He is the most NFL-ready player on BYU's defense and may be the best defensive player to wear a Cougar uniform during Mendenhall's tenure. Early on, the team assigned Van Noy to room with Ziggy on all road trips, which afforded Ziggy the opportunity to learn the game from a future pro. "Kyle is like a brother to me," Ziggy told me. "I love him."
I've grown to love Kyle, too. I know it is unusual for a journalist to use those words about a subject. But I've spent a great deal of time with Van Noy this year. And he will be a major player in "The System" when it comes out next year. All I'll say here is that I can't think of a better mentor for Ziggy.
With Ziggy, there is an undercurrent of destiny. Consider that Frei met Ziggy on a basketball court in Ghana. Their common love of basketball turned them into fast friends. The interesting thing is that Steve Young partnered with Engage Now Africa to build the sports court where Frei and Ziggy met. The school's headmaster, a Mormon, allowed the missionaries to play pick-up basketball games there. And Ziggy worked there as a teaching assistant.
I called Young while writing the Sports Illustrated story on Ziggy. The former BYU quarterback still keeps close tabs on the Cougars. So he's familiar with Ziggy. But he had no idea that the court he helped build in Ghana proved to be the meeting place between Ziggy and the Mormon missionaries.
"The idea that Ziggy's story began there is heartwarming to all of us," Young said.
Nor did Frei set out to convert a football star. That wasn't the mission.
"But," he told me, "It is a nice side benefit."
Jeff Benedict is a special features contributor for Sports Illustrated and the author of 11 books. His website is www.jeffbenedict.com.
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