ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Ziggy Ansah has a lot to be thankful for, and he knows it.
The first-round pick of the Detroit Lions has had what he calls "a crazy journey" that started in Ghana, took him to Brigham Young and now the automobile capital of the world.
"I don't even know how to start," Ansah said Friday, a day after Detroit drafted him No. 5 overall. "I can't explain what I feel right now."
"One thing I've got to do when I get back to Utah, I'm going to go to coach Rose ... and thank him so much for not letting me play," he said.
Detroit feels fortunate, too. The Lions needed a defensive end to play right away and determined the 6-foot-5, 271-pound Ansah can do it despite having just three years of football experience.
If he pans out as a pass-rushing and run-stopping force, Detroit will have gotten something good out of its 4-12 record in 2012 because it gave the franchise an opportunity to spend a week with Ansah on and off the field at the Senior Bowl.
"He has very, very good football instincts and he's still new to the game," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "Probably the best thing that we've went through was just getting to know him as a person. The right kind of guy for Detroit, a hardworking humble guy that respects the game and respects what it takes to get here. We were impressed by his seriousness and his work ethic."
Elizabeth Cole said her son has always been driven to be the best in everything he does in life. He earned an academic scholarship to attend BYU, where he's an actuarial science major, and has talents that are obvious on the track, soccer fields and basketball courts.
Cole isn't surprised at her son's success, but couldn't have predicted he would play in the NFL.
"We don't play football in Africa," she said, looking and sounding awestruck after her son's news conference at Lions headquarters. "I didn't know anything about football. When I'm watching the game, I am only watching Ziggy, not the game because I don't understand it."
Ansah moved to the United States in 2008 after some missionaries he befriended suggested he attend BYU and play basketball. He fell short in hoops, ran for the school's track team wand eventually took the advice of friends and asked Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall for a tryout in 2010.
"He was the one who said, 'Yes,' to me when I wanted to start this game so he definitely deserves some credit," Ansah said.
When Ansah attempted to suit up for the first time, he recalls trying to put his thigh pad when his knee pad was supposed to go in his football pants.
"I didn't know what I was doing," he said. "I was a mess."
The Lions, though, are counting on Ansah to be more than a feel-good story. They need him to help make plays to help compensate for the loss of starting defensive ends Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch and key reserve Lawrence Jackson.8 comments on this story
And, they're confident he can do it next season — his fourth on a football field — in a leap like the league saw a New York Giants defensive end make after being drafted 15th overall in 2010.
"We've seen a couple different players do this," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. "Jason Pierre Paul went right from junior college, played one year at South Florida and next thing you know, he went on and had a great year. I think that a guy like Ziggy can do the same kind of things."
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