PROVO — BYU basketball coach Dave Rose remembers watching Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah at walk-on tryouts years ago.
"You could see some real athleticism from him," Rose recalled. "We all kind of looked at each other and said, 'My goodness, he'd be a heckuva football player.'"
Ansah, who hails from Accra, Ghana, had dreamed of playing basketball for the Cougars, and he tried out twice. Both times, he was cut.
"In the final outcome, we decided not to go with him," Rose said. "I made the final decision."
That decision led Ansah to try out for the football team, which ultimately went infinitely better. Ansah turned in a breakout season in 2012, and he is projected as a first-round pick in Thursday's National Football League draft. Ansah is on the brink of becoming a multi-millionaire.
"I feel like if he goes in the first 12 picks, I should get a portion of that because I steered him in the right direction," Rose joked. "He's pretty good, I'll tell you. I had a lot of fun watching him play."
Ansah originally had his sights set on a National Basketball Association career, and his goal was to make the Cougar hoop squad.
"Obviously, that didn't work out too good for me," Ansah said of his two BYU basketball tryouts. "I love the sport, but it didn't work out. There's a good reason why they didn't choose me."
Rose said Ansah's athleticism was undeniable during those tryouts.
"He was one of the best athletes in the gym during those walk-on tryouts. That’s not always what we're looking for in those walk-on tryouts. We're looking for some practice guys who can run a scout team. What we do a lot of in those tryouts is, we run a lot of different sets that you think they had run before because they are common and then some that are a little more difficult, because that's their whole role — to come in and give the coaches of 15-20 minutes of what the other team does and then have them execute it at a pretty high level while we're preparing to play against it. That wasn't Ziggy's strong suit. He hadn't played a lot of organized basketball, so running some of those sets kind of got him spinning around a little bit."
Rose said he doesn't really know Ansah, but he respects what Ansah has gone through. "Unbelievable," is how Rose describes Ansah's story.
"My only association with him is watching him play and the two walk-on tryouts," Rose said. "It's interesting that I do remember during those tryouts and we were all watching him and asking about him, trying to find out more about him from our trainer and others."
During the first tryout, Rose was told about Ansah being a member of the BYU track team, and that he wanted to play basketball. The next year, Ansah showed up again for tryouts.
"I guess he wasn't really interested in playing football at that time, because the next year, he tried out for basketball again," Rose said. "Then after that, I think he found his way over to football. That's pretty intimidating because you think of all the things that go into football that you don't know anything about. The first thing is, how do you put on all of those pads? That's pretty intimidating."
A BYU track coach took Ansah to the BYU football office in 2010, kick-starting Ansah's football career — which is about to take a big step forward Thursday during the NFL draft.
"Maybe the track coach who walked him over there should get a cut, too," Rose joked.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company