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Ties that bind: Ziggy's bond with LDS family in Ghana led him to BYU

Published: Friday, Sept. 13 2013 9:22 p.m. MDT

Steve Young stands next to Monica and Emmanuel Opare (executive directors of the Golden Sunbeam School), Sterling Tanner and John Shaffer with Rhino Sports. During his teenage years, Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah spent most of his time in the home of the Opare family.

Courtesy Forever Young Foundation

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

ACCRA, Ghana — During his teenage years, Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah spent most of his time in the home of the Opare family.

Emmanuel Opare Sr. and Monica Opare have been like parents to him.

“Somewhere along the line,” Monica said, “he became my son. He calls me 'Mom.'”

One of the Opares’ biological sons, Alma, who graduated from BYU and currently lives in Utah, had been Ansah’s teacher at the Golden Sunbeam School in Accra years ago.

Ziggy was drawn to Alma, and he spent most of his time in the Opare home, playing video games, eating meals, and participating in various activities associated with a typical LDS household, such as family prayer and family home evening.

“We took interest in him. He was always in our house,” Opare Sr., the Golden Sunbeam School headmaster, recalled. “Sometimes we had to tell him, ‘Why don’t you go home? It’s getting dark.’”

“We took him in as part of the family,” Monica said. “When Alma left for (an LDS mission), Ezekiel replaced Alma in the family.”

Throughout that time, the Opares had been careful to not talk to Ziggy about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because they didn’t want his family to think they were exerting too much influence on him.

Later, Ziggy met LDS missionaries while playing basketball on the Sport Court at Golden Sunbeam and ended up joining the LDS Church.

Golden beginnings

This past July, at the Golden Sunbeam School, the Opares showed a reporter a photo album filled with pictures of Ansah serving in the Ghanaian ROTC, singing in the choir, and dunking a basketball at the Sport Court. They made a photocopy of a transcript of his perfect grades at Golden Sunbeam, where he attended from fourth grade through ninth grade.

“Everything started from here,” Opare Sr. said. “He went to another school for senior high because our school just went through the ninth grade. When he finished there, he came back here again as a teaching assistant. He was good at math, so we put him to help those who were weak at math to coach them. That is Ezekiel for you.”

It was the Opares that arranged for Ansah to go to school at BYU. They helped him apply, and paid for him to travel to the United States.

When Ziggy was drafted No. 5 overall by the Detroit Lions in April’s National Football League draft, Alma was one of the handful of people Ziggy invited to be with him in New York City for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Through Alma, the Opares kept close tabs on Ziggy in Provo, following, from a long distance, his many ups and downs.

At one point at BYU, Ziggy expressed a desire to serve an LDS mission, according to the Opares. But he didn’t want to place a burden on his family. He wanted to pay for it himself.

“I know he still has that desire to serve,” said Emmanuel Opare Jr.

Ziggy later told the Opares that playing football could be a way for him to share the gospel.

“We’ll see about his mission on the football field,” Opare Jr. said, chuckling. “Teaching the gospel while bumping someone.”

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