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Ansah among NFL hopefuls at BYU's Pro Day

Published: Tuesday, June 30 2015 4:07 p.m. MDT

BYU's Ezekiel Ansah, right, takes a breather from running drills during the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) BYU's Ezekiel Ansah, right, takes a breather from running drills during the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

PROVO — Sixteen players participated in BYU's annual Pro Day, but there was one main attraction.

That would be defensive lineman Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, who has generated national attention with his unique story, the one about his meteoric rise from unknown novice to dominating playmaker. He's projected to be a top-15 pick in the upcoming National Football League draft.

Ansah, a native of Ghana who started just nine games in his career for the Cougars, participated in the NFL Combine in February and turned heads with his 4.63 time in the 40-yard dash.

While Ansah did not run the 40 Thursday at the BYU indoor practice facility, he did go through the paces in a number of other drills.

"I just decided not to run," Ansah explained. "I don't think there was anything I could do to impress anybody out here. I know I'm fast."

BYU's Ezekiel Ansah attends the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) BYU's Ezekiel Ansah attends the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Ansah's impressive time at the Combine in Indianapolis certainly helped raise his draft stock. Some draft experts project him to be a top-5 selection.

"That's why we didn't have him run here. There was no need to," said Dan VanWoerkom, one of Ansah's agents. "This is Ziggy showing that he's willing to let any of the coaches come in and do a last check on him, make sure he's still healthy and get that last little feeling for where he's at. It's been great. We're excited for him."

NFL scouts representing at least 10 teams worked out the 16 NFL hopefuls. A coach from the Oakland Raiders — who own the No. 3 pick overall in the draft — spent considerable time with Ansah, putting him through position-specific drills designed to evaluate his skill set.

BYU's Braden Brown stretches at the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) BYU's Braden Brown stretches at the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

"After this, I'm going to lunch with the Raiders' coach," Ansah said. "I'll see what he's got for me."

Just where could Ansah land in the draft?

"We don't know," VanWoerkom said. "He's got strong potential to be picked in the top 15. I think everybody knows that. But nobody in the press has a pick. We don't have a pick. It's the teams that pick. They'll decide. None of us know that. We're waiting to see like everyone else."

Meanwhile, former Cougars Braden Brown, Ian Dulan, DeQuan Everett, Romney Fuga, Preston Hadley, Braden Hansen, Reed Hornung, Uona Kaveinga, Brandon Ogletree and Riley Stephenson all participated in Pro Day.

BYU's Preston Hadley runs the 40-yard dash at the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) BYU's Preston Hadley runs the 40-yard dash at the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

So did two former BYU players who were suspended by coach Bronco Mendenhall last year — Joe Sampson and O'Neill Chambers. Both returned to campus to show the scouts what they can do.

Defensive lineman Russell Tialavea did not work out due to injury.

Braden Brown's brother, Les Brown — who also attended Pro Day last year and ended up signing a contract with the Miami Dolphins — participated Wednesday, as did former Cougar Malosi Te'o and Dixie State product Cache Morgan.

"Most of the people here are interested in the one guy (Ansah), but there are other players with ability, other guys that will be drafted or free agents," said director of college scouting for the New Orleans Saints, Rick Reiprish.

Besides Ansah, Braden Brown could be another Cougar who hears his name called during the draft.

BYU's Braden Hansen runs the 40-yard dash at the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) BYU's Braden Hansen runs the 40-yard dash at the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

"If a team believes in me in the third round, that would be awesome," said Brown, an offensive lineman who prepped at Highland High. "I feel like I've worked really hard. I feel like I deserve a shot to play in the NFL because I've sacrificed a lot and worked really hard my whole life to play in the NFL."

Ogletree, a linebacker who ran a 4.61 in the 40, enjoyed his Pro Day experience.

"It was cool, man. It was a little nerve-wracking at first. But I felt once I got going," he said, "I felt like I turned some heads."

What are Ogletree's expectations regarding the NFL?

BYU's Uona Kaveinga runs through drills during the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) BYU's Uona Kaveinga runs through drills during the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

"I'm ready for anything. I've heard anything from late-round draft pick to undrafted free agent," he said. "Whatever happens, I'll live with it. I just want to get into a camp. As long as I can get into a camp and show some people that I can play football, I'll feel really good about it."

Brown, like Ansah, was invited to the NFL Combine last month.

"I was actually a little bit more nervous today than I was at the Combine, with all the (general managers) and coaches around," Brown said. "At the Combine, everybody's up in the stands, so you don't really think about it. You just get into a zone. Here, everyone's on the field. It was a little bit more sped up than I expected it to be. But that's just the way it is. I think they wanted to test us today and see how we'd react to the things they wanted to put us through. All things considered, I think I did well today. I showed the scouts that I can move around well for a guy my size."

BYU's Brandon Ogletree reaches for distance in the broad jump at the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) BYU's Brandon Ogletree reaches for distance in the broad jump at the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Ansah appeared to tire toward the end of his workout, but that's nothing to be concerned about, according to the Saints' Reiprish.

"It looked like he did," he said. "But conditioning is overplayed. … You've got to remember, football's a long ways off."

At one point in recent weeks, Ansah had declined an invitation to attend the NFL Draft in New York City because it conflicts with BYU's graduation exercises. Ansah is taking one class — American heritage — this semester and is set to graduate in April.

But after the urging of friends and others, Ansah decided that he'll go to New York.

"I talked to the department to find out if I could walk a different day (in August) than the same day as the draft," Ansah said. "I got that figured out. I get to go to the draft, which is good."

BYU's Braden Brown rests during the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday (Laura Seitz, Deseret News) BYU's Braden Brown rests during the 2013 Pro Day at BYU in Provo on Thursday (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

The NFL will fly some of Ansah's family members to New York from Ghana to attend the draft festivities.

"The only thing that's left now is for him to do some visits with some of the clubs that are picking in the top half of the draft," said VanWoerkom. "That will happen over the next few weeks. We'll see where he goes."

NOTES: Among those who watched parts of Pro Day were coach Bronco Mendenhall, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, wide receiver Cody Hoffman, former BYU receivers coach Ben Cahoon, former BYU running back Harvey Unga and BYU basketball player Brandon Davies.

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