I can't believe I'm doing this. I pinch myself every day. I get paid to play. It's something I can't really comprehend. I'm just grateful for this opportunity. —Ziggy Ansah
Ziggy Ansah made headlines over the weekend when he intercepted New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and rumbled 14 yards for a touchdown.
It is the latest step in a remarkable journey. Ansah, a Ghanaian with only three years of football experience, has exploded onto the professional football scene. His teammates call him a freak of nature. His coaches say he soaks up football instruction like a sponge. Especially after this past weekend, fans are drooling over his professional football potential.
Ansah's career and image are now on course for the stratosphere.
Ninety-nine percent of football fans will never get close enough to Ansah to say anything to him, yet if there's one thing that 99 percent would say to him given the chance, it would likely be this: "Don't ever change."
Since he was tabbed as a legitimate pro prospect, Ansah has handled the spotlight with grace and poise. His most outstanding quality — besides the talent to get the best of opposing quarterbacks — has been his humility and gratitude.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," Ansah recently said. "I pinch myself every day. I get paid to play. It's something I can't really comprehend. I'm just grateful for this opportunity. I want to make the most of it. So I approach every day as a day to get better. You can't be the best in just one day."
"Veterans love a young guy who comes in and is willing to work," NFL veteran and Ansah teammate Israel Idonije said. "Ziggy is a humble guy. At the end of the day it's the talented guys who are humble and coachable that go a long way."
His teammates affectionately refer to him as an athletic freak, but Ziggy is doing something else freakish. He is actually succeeding at being the good guy, and everyone is buying. It's very hard not to like him and his story.
"He's a breath of fresh air," Dan VanWoerkom, one of Ansah's representatives, said shortly after Ansah was drafted. "That's what everybody in the NFL is saying about him."
That's the understatement of the century. Ansah is a gale of fresh air. Right now, he's the antithesis of everything wrong with sports. His story is the American dream.
Examples of athletes who have fallen from grace are as plentiful as sand in the Sahara. Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez, Aaron Hernandez, Plaxico Burress, Michael Vick, Marion Jones, Ryan Braun, Kobe Bryant, Lenny Dykstra, Pete Rose, Oscar Pistorius and even coaches like Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno show that the line between fame and infamy is very, very thin.
The very fact that Ansah is not on this list is among the reasons why everyone loves him. He's done everything right, and the world has treated him right in return.
At a local level, Ansah has transcended the venomous rivalry banter that continually surrounds Beehive State college football. Even some of the most die-hard Ute fans wish good things for Ansah — though they obviously aren't remotely as enthusiastic about his pro career as the BYU faithful.
By virtue of his No. 5 NFL Draft selection, his African nativity, his charismatic personality and his ability to professionally excel while still learning the game, Ziggy has become one of the largest sports celebrities to ever call the state of Utah his home.
But the bigger they are, the harder they fall. That's what they say, isn't it?
Ansah is still a young man with a lot of money in a big city, a combination that for many men is a recipe for disaster. Before long, Ansah will have to face down the girls that will throw themselves at him, evaluate the invitations to late night parties in risqué clubs and take a hard look at anyone and everyone that wants to get close to him. Not everyone will have his best interests at heart.
It's not yet clear who or what could potentially derail Ansah's career and his sterling image, but what is clear is that both could be destroyed much faster and much more easily than they ware built.
The early indicators point to a long, full career, and a multitude of fans and friends are hoping Ansah's name will reach legendary status both in football and in life.
It's right there. The way is clear. Don't mess this up, Ziggy. Don't ever change.