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Solid foundation: Ziggy Ansah's roots prepared him for an NFL career

Published: Thursday, Sept. 12 2013 4:44 p.m. MDT

Emmanuel Opare, Jr., Monica Opare, and Emmanuel Opare, Sr., who run the Golden Sunbeam School, pose by the poster they made to honor their most famous alum, Ziggy Ansah.

Jeff Call, Deseret News

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

ACCRA, Ghana — A sprawling city with a population of 4 million people, Ghana’s capital is filled with shantytowns and modern, concrete buildings.

Open sewage systems run parallel to the busy streets, and women clad in bright-colored clothing carry containers of fruits, nuts and other goods on their heads to sell. There are picturesque beaches dotted with palm trees, and, in some places, traffic congestion.

Known as the gateway to West Africa, Accra is an intriguing blend of modern and third-world.

Generally speaking, Ghanaians are humble and happy. They are spiritual people. Names of many businesses carry Biblical or Christian references, such as “God Is Great engineering — truck and diesel repair.”

Taxis and buses have phrases like “With God,” or "Psalm 23," or “Freedom,” or “Stay Cool” emblazoned on the back for all to see.

Located on the northern outskirts of Accra is the suburb of Adenta, where former BYU and current Detroit Lion defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah grew up.

There is one tangible indication that this is Ziggy’s hometown.

Draped across the front of the Golden Sunbeam School in Adenta is a giant banner that draws attention not just because it is striking, but also because it seems so out of place in this West African nation that reveres soccer players, not football players.

And it leaves no doubt that Ansah is an alum of the school.

The high-quality color sign features images of Ziggy being drafted, standing next to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and former Lions star and NFL Hall-of-Famer, Barry Sanders; Ziggy participating in the NFL combine; and Ziggy collaring a Georgia Tech quarterback last season during his senior season at BYU.

“Imagine the possibilities with A Golden Sunbeam Educational Experience,” the sign exclaims. “Now drafted into the NFL, Ezekiel is the FIRST Ghanaian national to ever play pro American football & he is a product of Golden Sunbeam School!!!”

Golden Sunbeam’s bespectacled, gray-haired headmaster, Emmanuel Opare Sr., wore a dark suit and carried an iPad when he welcomed a visitor from Utah in July.

As Opare Sr. points to the sign, he smiles with pride. And he has every reason to — he and his family made it possible for Ansah to attend BYU five years ago.

He’s not surprised at all that Ansah has made a name for himself in the United States.

Ziggy excelled in everything he did in school in Ghana. He earned straight A’s in the classroom. He was assistant student body president. He even sang bass in the school choir (he was the only bass in the choir). As a teenager, he served in the equivalent of Ghana’s naval ROTC, achieving the rank of regimental sergeant major. In class photos, he towers over the other students. And, of course, Ziggy stood out because of his height and athleticism, both on the soccer field and on the basketball court.

A different sport

So what was Opare Sr.’s reaction when he found out that Ansah had started playing football?

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