NEW YORK — Right before the National Football League draft began Thursday night inside Radio City Music Hall, BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall — who arrived in New York City that afternoon from Costa Rica, where he had been vacationing with his wife — had a feeling that defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah would be selected No. 5 overall by the Detroit Lions.
Mendenhall was right, but it was something stronger than just an inkling. He had some insider information.
Not to mention a handful of blue M&M's.
Earlier in the day, Mendenhall had an in-depth conversation with Lions general manager Martin Mayhew.
Less than an hour into the draft, former Lions legendary running back, and Pro Football Hall of Famer, Barry Sanders stood at the podium and announced that the Detroit franchise had selected Ansah, who strode on stage wearing 3D glasses without lenses.
"I didn't know who (Sanders) was until I started watching the NFL Network," Ansah said. "When I heard he was going to say the No. 5 pick, and it was me, I can't even explain it. It was a unique feeling."
It was not a surprise that the Lions picked the native of Ghana. That's what many mock drafts had predicted, and the Lions coaching staff had coached Ansah during his MVP performance in the Senior Bowl in January.
"For a second, I wanted to call the Detroit Lions coach and have him text me and ask me how I'm doing," Ansah joked. "They didn't hit me up at all after the Senior Bowl. I got a little bit nervous."
Ansah became the highest draft pick from BYU since quarterback Jim McMahon, who was also picked No. 5 overall in 1982. Ansah was the Cougars' first first-round selection since Rob Morris went No. 28 in 2000. He was the first Cougar drafted since Dennis Pitta was picked in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2010.
Ansah and Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei also made history. It's the first time players from BYU and Utah were selected in the first round in the same draft. Lotulelei was the No. 14 pick of the Carolina Panthers.
In the green room, Mendenhall and Ansah's other guests — which included Ziggy's mother, Elizabeth, who came from Ghana for the occasion — played a little game.
"There were M&M's back there on a table," Mendenhall said. "Each of us drew out a number of M&Ms as what pick we thought he would go. Mine was five."
How many M&M's did Ziggy pick?
"His was one," Mendenhall said. "But we spent a lot of time building Ziggy's confidence and making him think that he's invincible and can do hard things. That was great to see he thought he could go No. 1."
Mendenhall had been in Costa Rica this week, surfing and doing some work for his family's foundation. Mayhew, Detroit's GM, had been trying to get ahold of Mendenhall for a couple of days. They finally connected by phone while Mendenhall was going through customs Thursday afternoon.
"He just said, 'When you get ready to possibly draft someone in the first round, you probably ought to talk to his head coach,'" said Mendenhall. "I said, 'Yeah, that would be a good idea.' He laughed, then asked me, 'What are we getting?' He said he was very impressed with Ziggy's play at the Senior Bowl. He asked me what motivates him. I told him he was getting a very humble, obedient, hard-working player that loves competition and thrives on relationships.
"I encouraged the organization to build a strong relationship with Ziggy, which it sounds like they started to do at the Senior Bowl. I said if those remain intact and there's trust between himself and your staff, he'll play to a very high level for a long time."56 comments on this story
Ansah, who has only been playing football for a few years, is eager to embark on this next step in his improbable football career.
"I'm relieved," he said. "I'm excited to step up and play in the National Football League. It's been a crazy journey."
The NFL draft continues Friday and Saturday from Radio City Music Hall.
Other Cougars that could hear their names called this weekend include offensive linemen Braden Brown and Braden Hansen, and linebackers Uona Kaveinga and Brandon Ogletree.