Cheering from afar: People in Ghana proud of Ziggy Ansah's football exploits

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 11 2013 11:35 p.m. MDT

Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (94) rushes the line during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013.

Paul Sancya, AP

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on former BYU standout and current Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah.

ACCRA, Ghana — Walking briskly through the bustling outdoor market, the two friends were searching for something specific — but not easily found — here in Ghana’s capital city.

And they were running out of time.

Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah and Matthew Lamptey wandered around the busy market on that day in 2008 hunting for basketball shoes. Not just any basketball shoes, but ones that would fit the size 15 feet of Ansah, who is much taller and bigger than the average Ghanaian.

Lamptey remembers that experience well. It was the day before his good buddy, Ziggy, was to leave his homeland of Ghana for the United States, where he would enroll at BYU.

“We combed the whole market for shoes and we couldn’t get his size,” Lamptey recalled, smiling. “Everywhere we went, they told us they didn’t have his size. We finally found some, and we bought him two pair to play basketball.”

At the time, Ansah’s dream was to go to school and become a National Basketball Association star, like LeBron James.

But fate had something else in mind.

Some five years later, Ziggy Ansah is playing in the National Football League. Ansah, the former Cougar who was the No. 5 overall pick of the Detroit Lions in April, recorded three tackles and a half sack in his official NFL debut last Sunday in a season-opening 34-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Through regular emails and text messages, Lamptey — who currently works as a teacher at the LDS Missionary Training Center in Tema, Ghana — has kept in touch with Ansah over the years.

“He hasn’t really changed,” said Lamptey, who met Ansah in school. “He’s still that sweet person that I knew. Ziggy was high-spirited, a cheerful person. He was always smiling.”

When Ansah left Africa, he had little money or material possessions, but a lot of talent and goals — and he didn’t have a clue about football. Today, Ziggy is a multimillionaire, a professional athlete, a college graduate, a role model, and the pride of Adenta (located on the northern outskirts of Accra), Ghana.

Indeed, this hometown boy has made good.

Lamptey has never seen a football game in person. But, thanks to modern technology, he has watched Ansah play this violent sport. He has Ziggy’s football highlights and interviews downloaded on his laptop.

“I keep showing people how far my friend has gone. I’m so proud of it,” Lamptey said. “I don’t really know much about American football, but it is fascinating to me the way the game is. I wonder how they do it. I just wish I could go one day and see the game in person. It looks interesting.”

Watching Ziggy play football is an odd mental juxtaposition for Lamptey, because the Ansah he knows is good-natured, kind and gentle. It’s hard for him to believe it’s the same person inside that helmet and shoulder pads, chasing down quarterbacks and tossing them to the ground — which, essentially, is Ziggy’s job description.

The nickname, “Ziggy,” means passive, easygoing and friendly.

“In our African culture, people go by other names,” Lamptey said. “If there’s something peculiar about you, I can use that and give you a name that you and I know. Then I’ll just call you one of those names. We laugh about it and make fun of it.”

Ziggy’s given name, Ezekiel, is a Hebrew word that means “God strengthens” or “the strength of God.”

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