Jaren Wilkey, BYU
NEW YORK — Sporting fluorescent yellow shoes and socks, Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah stood out among nearly two dozen National Football League prospects.
And not just because of his bright-colored attire.
The soft-spoken Ansah flashed his 100-watt smile frequently while he and other NFL hopefuls taught hundreds of New York City schoolchildren football skills at a Manhattan park Wednesday.
Ironically, it wasn't that long ago that Ansah, a native of Accra, Ghana, was learning those same drills himself — in 2010 — when he tried out at BYU having never played football before.
With skyscrapers and sunny skies serving as a backdrop on a beautiful spring morning in the Big Apple, Ansah clearly had fun during this youth clinic sponsored by the NFL.
"It was good," said the 6-foot-5, 271-pound defensive lineman. "I really enjoyed being out here."
So much so that Ansah would love to be an ambassador for the NFL someday, promoting football in his homeland of Ghana, where, for now, there is little interest in the sport.
"That's what I want to do," Ansah told the Deseret News. "It's something I want to try to do after I'm done playing — take it back to Africa and help the little kids with it."
While Ansah's meteoric rise in popularity — he was surrounded by an army of reporters after the clinic ended — is expected to continue soaring when the NFL draft begins Thursday (6 p.m. MDT, ESPN/NFL Network) at Radio City Music Hall, the NFL could also take a leap forward in popularity in the soccer-loving, West African nation of Ghana.
Ansah is projected to be a top-10 pick in the draft, and four other foreign-born players also could be selected in the first round. It could go down as the most international-oriented draft in league history.
But Ziggy Ansah's unlikely story is unique, even among foreign players — featuring elements that inspire movies.
"It would be a best-selling book, or a box-office smash if anyone of real quality told the story," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has said. "That I was able to be part of it in some way has been one of the highlights of my career (at BYU)."
Among the many media outlets that conducted interviews with Ansah on Wednesday included the London-based BBC.
"You're here with a number of NFL prospects that have great stories, but none more extraordinary than yours," the BBC reporter said before firing off questions.
Ansah's first connection with BYU began when he met LDS missionaries serving in Ghana. From there, Ansah joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, became a BYU student, and, eventually, gave football a shot after being cut twice from the Cougar basketball team. Football, as it turned out, was the sport he was destined to play.
NFL officials say they are intrigued by Ansah's willingness to promote the game overseas, but that probably won't happen until he's established himself at this level.
Mark Waller, who hails from England, is the chief marketing officer for the NFL — the United States' most popular league.
"We've got a lot of interest from players who realize the great opportunities to represent 'The Shield' (the NFL) outside the United States," Waller told the Deseret News. "This sport is only going to grow, and we're going to get more and more international players. You're seeing that this year. It's a huge opportunity for them, and a huge responsibility. To take a game like ours globally is a great responsibility."
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