Steve Young, Ziggy Ansah connected through charity work in Ghana

Young's foundation paved the way for BYU star

Published: Sunday, July 28 2013 7:42 p.m. MDT

Tanner hadn't made that connection, and neither had Young. Then came Ansah's breakthrough season last fall at BYU, the same place that launched Young's legendary football career.

"It's heartwarming and it makes me feel like it's come full-circle, right?" Young said of Ziggy. "I'm just a bit player in it. We're all kind of in it together. These are the things that can come of it. I appreciate everybody's parts in it. These are my closest relationships and my closest friends — Bob, Sterling and (Young's wife) Barb and all of us that work in the foundation. The story is a neat thing for us."

Last fall, Young met with Ansah to get acquainted with him and to provide him with another support system.

"The things that were going to happen to Ziggy were obvious to me, and probably were obvious to everybody else," Young said. "He was going to have some things happen to him where he was going to need help and resources. We got in contact with each other and spoke. I got a meeting with Bob. He has a lot of resources in Ghana and here, the things that Ziggy might need because his family is not here, and just to make sure that he was supported, No. 1. That was the crux of it. And also making sure he was getting good support in finding the right people to represent him. Who would have known that he would be the fifth pick in the draft? But I knew that we needed to make sure that he was supported. That's what started the conversations, and now it's just a friendship. It's making sure that things are going well."

Young describes Ziggy as "soft-spoken. He really wants to please people and make them feel good. Just an all-around great guy."

Ansah has said that, at some point, he would like to return to Ghana and be an ambassador for the NFL and put on clinics for kids, finding ways to offer service to his homeland. That's something that Young would like to help facilitate.

"He's been an ambassador for Forever Young, even though he didn't really know it," Young said. "What we'd love to do is what Bob did for us — which was get him doing his own thing, and we can help him with that and figure that out. Whether he does it with us or through us or on his own, we could be supportive of that kind of a thing. There's plenty of time to do that. It certainly doesn't have to happen all at once. But certainly that he wants to do that is great. We look forward to figuring that out."

Young enjoyed his time in Ghana, and he is planning to return soon.

"They're the happiest people on Earth, everyone you meet," Young said of Ghanaians. "They're a very happy people. For us in the West that have so much, it was a great lesson for me. It was great to see people have so little and be so happy. It really struck me that happiness is not about things. You hear it, but you have to experience it. It changes you a little bit. There are a lot of things I could say about Ghana, but that is the No. 1 thing."

During his trip to Ghana, Young flew under the radar. That's because few people in Ghana know what American football is. The vast majority of Ghanaians do not care about American football. However, because of Ziggy Ansah, that might not be the case for long.

"The only people who knew who Steve was or knew what American football was were the American missionaries over there," Tanner said. "My sense is, that's going to change."

Tanner was attending his son's graduation from BYU on the night of the NFL draft last April.

"It's funny," Tanner said. "I actually heard about Ziggy being drafted by way of Ghana. Emmanuel Opare sent me a text, telling me Ziggy had been drafted No. 5. I don't think he even knew what that meant. He had heard about it immediately from his son, Alma, who was in New York for the draft.

"Ziggy is going to be fun to watch in the NFL. I have a feeling the next time he goes back to Ghana, a few more people are going to know what the NFL is. For a Ghanaian to reach that level of any sport in the U.S., it will be another Dikembe Mutombo or a Yao Ming moment, where you'll see an entire country suddenly embrace not only Ziggy, but the NFL as well."

This week, Tanner and other Forever Young Foundation representatives from the United States returned to Accra. They visited Golden Sunbeam and immediately noticed a giant sign draped across the front of the school, touting Ansah's exploits as a football player. "It all started on Golden Sunbeam's basketball court," the sign exclaims, "where Ezekiel Ansah discovered and nurtured his basketball abilities."

Those who know Ziggy here are proud of their native son and what he has accomplished in the United States — in a sport that they do not understand. They call him "a hero." They will be following his NFL career as closely as they can.

In recent weeks, the rims on the basketball hoops on the Sport Court, installed back in 2007, had to be replaced. They had deteriorated and were falling apart. People here attribute that to two factors — to the humidity in Ghana, and to the ferocious dunks Ansah threw down at the expense of those rims.

Now, Ziggy Ansah, against all odds, is transferring that ferociousness to the NFL. And, as those involved with the Forever Young Foundation and the Golden Sunbeam School will tell you, it all started here.

email: jeffc@deseretnews.com

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