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Dick Harmon: Star Lotulelei, Ziggy Ansah are worthy of the draft recognition they'll receive Thursday night

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 10:27 p.m. MDT

Former Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei is expected to be chosen in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft Thursday night. (University of Utah athletic department) Former Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei is expected to be chosen in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft Thursday night. (University of Utah athletic department)

Star Lotulelei and Ziggy Ansah have set the perfect stage for local eyes to be glued to Thursday’s first-round broadcast of the 2013 NFL draft.

It’s a rarity for the state of Utah to produce two college football players whom multiple experts project could be taken in the first 10 picks of the first round. Both are LDS. Both have been hyped. Both are genuine gentlemen, the kind of guys that will adequately and properly represent the state of Utah as athletes and as men.

They are outstanding athletes who go about it in different ways. And both are about to become millionaires.

In short, they are worth cheering for. They deserve all the attention, recognition and money draft day can throw at them.

You can watch the first round of the NFL draft at 6 p.m. on ESPN or the NFL Network.

Former BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is expected to be chosen in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft Thursday night. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Former BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is expected to be chosen in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft Thursday night. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Both of these athletes are considered unique. Some call them athletic freaks of nature, possessing extraordinary skills and powers. They have been measured, weighed, timed, pinched, prodded, tested, interviewed and screened — and NFL folks like what they see.

While Lotulelei elected not to go to New York because he wanted to share the moment at home with family and friends, Ansah almost turned down the invitation because it is his graduation day. Ansah’s friends and advisers convinced him he could walk as a graduate later this summer and that he should be in New York at Radio City Music Hall for this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Both these guys have stolen a lot of headlines this winter.

Lotulelei had a strange heart condition pop up at the NFL combine in Indianapolis back in February that shortened his testing at the event, but doctors have assured he’s fine. Ansah, a native of Ghana, has had his age questioned and his passport examined. No stone has been left unturned in investigating the prowess and background of these men.

Still, they will be front and center on the big stage Thursday.

And that’s a very big deal.

Both men come from humble origins. Star is the son of Tongan emmigrants who moved to the United States to find a better life for their children. Ansah, a convert of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, left his country to seek a better education and play basketball.

Star’s football work in the trenches is sometimes underappreciated because of the pile of bodies he creates. Ansah’s speed work is sometimes easier to identify.

Lotulelei’s athletic prowess has been well-documented the past two years. He quickly rose to become the most-feared defensive lineman in the Pac-12. His size, strength, quickness and dominating play on the line of scrimmage are tattooed on video as evidence of his talent. As experts have broken down film, they’ve seen first-hand the havoc he brings to the line of scrimmage.

Folks have been talking about Lotulelei as a potential No. 1 overall pick for two seasons. When he didn’t come out early last year, his stock remained extremely high. It's stayed high all the way to now.

I remember seeing multiple games, including back-to-back games against BYU, when Lotulelei’s presence alone seemed to intimidate the Cougars into fumbles on their first possessions. He also did that against Pac-12 offensive lines.

Ansah’s resume is much shorter, and he's more of a mystery. He’s a flash entry on the scene, a man with almost no football resume; a special teams artist, backup defensive end and outside linebacker until teammate Eathyn Manumaleuna got injured this past season.

Ansah’s impact was immediate. He began chasing down backs and quarterbacks. He drew double teams. He wrecked Georgia Tech’s option on the road and put on a show in the bowl win over San Diego State. His explosive speed stood out as something remarkable. Combined with his extraordinary wingspan, vertical and burst, he began to turn heads.

With no runway to get a head start on his reputation like Star, Ansah had only a few opportunities to make a splash. He did so, both with his unique story of showing up at BYU's practice and needing to have someone show him how to put on football pads, to his play on the field as a senior as his eligibility ebbed away.

Riding national publicity because of his “fun” and “unusual” story, Ansah has been seen as a curiosity. Then he went to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in January. There, he was mundane in practice, but stole the show in the actual game when he earned MVP honors.

Ansah took that performance and exploited it at the combine, running a 4.63 time in the 40, knocking it out of the park on cone drills and in interviews. On Wednesday, The Sporting News had him listed as the No. 1 defensive end in the draft. It could be said Ansah has been the most-publicized football player in the 2013 draft.

With Star’s resume and Ziggy’s meteoric rise, this is a draft that will provide compelling viewing — both early and late — with plenty of prospects from Utah State, Weber State, Utah, BYU and SUU hoping to hear their names called.

Congratulations to all, especially to Star and Ziggy, a pair of worthy headliners indeed.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company