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How will Ziggy handle his new life in the NFL?

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 4:43 a.m. MDT

BYU's Ziggy Ansah is introduced as the fifth overall pick by the Detroit Lions in the First Round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall.  (Jaren Wilkey, BYU) BYU's Ziggy Ansah is introduced as the fifth overall pick by the Detroit Lions in the First Round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU)

PROVO — The past several days have been like a whirlwind for Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah.

It started with a trip to New York City. There he attended meetings, posed for photo shoots, participated in a kids' clinic, answered the same questions from reporters over and over again, had long discussions with agents, enjoyed a reunion with his mother, dressed up in a cap and gown for a de facto graduation from BYU in a Manhattan hotel room, and became the No. 5 overall draft pick, going to the Detroit Lions in the National Football League.

Then Ansah, who grew up in Ghana, jetted to his new home in the Motor City, where he charmed the media there during a press conference.

When asked about the seemingly inherent quality of hating opposing quarterbacks that great NFL defensive linemen possess, Ansah replied, "I don't want to use the word 'hate.' If you love somebody, you want to grab them. I love quarterbacks."

BYU Head Football Coach Bronco Mendenhall congratulates Ziggy Ansah on his pick to join the Detroit Lions. BYU's Ziggy Ansah is introduced as the fifth overall pick by the Detroit Lions in the First Round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall.   April 25, 2013 (JarenWilkey/Byu, JarenWilkey/BYU) BYU Head Football Coach Bronco Mendenhall congratulates Ziggy Ansah on his pick to join the Detroit Lions. BYU's Ziggy Ansah is introduced as the fifth overall pick by the Detroit Lions in the First Round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. April 25, 2013 (JarenWilkey/Byu, JarenWilkey/BYU)

Point, Ziggy.

The media that talked to Ansah this week from around the country found him to be uncommonly humble, innocent and candid.

"He's a breath of fresh air," said Dan VanWoerkom, one of Ansah's representatives. "That's what everybody in the NFL is saying about him."

Ansah drew considerable attention for wearing 3D glasses without lenses on draft night, just like he used to wear them around BYU's campus as a way to express his fun-loving personality.

But there's another side to this improbable, captivating story. While this is football, this isn't just about fun and games.

Ezekiel Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah is drafted by Detroit Lions. (JarenWilkey/Byu, JarenWilkey/BYU)

Ansah, who, before he finally earned a football scholarship last year worked part-time on BYU's campus as a custodian, is expected to receive a signing bonus of $12.5 million.

As for his salary, the No. 6 pick in last year's draft, cornerback Morris Claiborne, signed a four-year deal for $16.26 million (the financial terms of last year's No. 5 selection, wide receiver Justin Blackmon, were undisclosed).

What will that kind of money mean to Ansah's family?

"I don't think any of us could even begin to grasp that," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "When you see the pictures from where Ziggy's from (Accra, Ghana), and you see the country in general, then compare it to Radio City Music Hall, and the Green Room, and all the coverage that's happening and with the salaries that are paid to professional athletes, my biggest hope is that he can remain authentic and true to who he really is off the field, then combine that with his talent on the field for good."

Ziggy Ansah embraces his mother while wearing his cap and gown in his New York City hotel room. (John Minchillo, Associated Press, Jaren Wilkey, Byu, John Minchillo, Associated Press) Ziggy Ansah embraces his mother while wearing his cap and gown in his New York City hotel room. (John Minchillo, Associated Press, Jaren Wilkey, Byu, John Minchillo, Associated Press)

Ansah will have to adapt to a new city, and his lifestyle is going to change in significant ways by virtue of being a professional athlete.

When Ansah's mom was asked if she is concerned about these issues last Thursday afternoon, hours before the draft, she replied, "He's level-headed. I'm not worried about that. He knows what he's doing."

To which Ziggy joked: "She thinks I know what I'm doing."

But by Thursday night in the Green Room, Elizabeth was hoping her son would be playing professional football in Utah, where he has well-established roots. Then she was told that Utah doesn't have an NFL team.

Is Ziggy prepared for this dramatic, life-changing transition?

BYU's Ziggy Ansah arrives on  the red carpet  at Radio City Music Hall for the First Round of the NFL Draft. Ansah was picked 5th by the Detroit Lions. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU) BYU's Ziggy Ansah arrives on the red carpet at Radio City Music Hall for the First Round of the NFL Draft. Ansah was picked 5th by the Detroit Lions. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU)

"I think it remains to be seen," Mendenhall said.

From all indications, Ansah has a solid support system in place. VanWoerkom, who also represents Mendenhall, is an attorney and sports agent who teaches at BYU's law school.

"He's a dear friend of mine," Mendenhall said of VanWoerkom. "He's a friend from our neighborhood. We got to know him and we trust him. I know that Ziggy will rely on him, he'll get great counsel and he'll be cared for really well."

Lindon residents Chris and Nancy Washburn have taken Ansah in, literally. Ansah has lived with the family since the end of December. They knew him long before even he knew he wanted to play football.

Their relationship began years ago as Chris was serving in a bishopric of an LDS student ward. Ziggy had no place to go for Thanksgiving dinner, so the Washburns, who have five children, invited him to their home.

BYU's Ziggy Ansah is introduced as the fifth overall pick by the Detroit Lions in the First Round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall.  (Jaren Wilkey, BYU) BYU's Ziggy Ansah is introduced as the fifth overall pick by the Detroit Lions in the First Round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU)

Ansah has been part of the family ever since.

At one point Thursday, Ansah half-jokingly referred to the Washburns as "my white family."

The Washburns, of course, worry about Ziggy and his future. Heck, they worried about him when he was living in relatively tame Utah County.

"The Washburns have kind of taken Ziggy under their wing as surrogate parents as he's been away from his mom," Mendenhall said. "That's been very helpful."

Chris Washburn said he knows that Ansah relies on his faith to get him through adversity and challenges.

During his post-draft press conference, Ansah proudly told reporters that he is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, adding, "My Heavenly Father has been by my side, and I know he's going to carry me through for the rest of my life."

When asked about having his mom, who arrived in New York City from Ghana for the draft, with him on his special night, Ansah became visibly emotional and said that it was very important to him.

BYU Head Football Coach Bronco Mendenhall and  Ziggy Ansah speak with reporters at the NFL Draft. 
BYU's Ziggy Ansah is introduced as the fifth overall pick by the Detroit Lions in the First Round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall.  (Jaren Wilkey, BYU) BYU Head Football Coach Bronco Mendenhall and Ziggy Ansah speak with reporters at the NFL Draft. BYU's Ziggy Ansah is introduced as the fifth overall pick by the Detroit Lions in the First Round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU)

Elizabeth said she is planning to visit Provo this week to see where her son lived the past four years.

"She's very much like us. She counsels him to stay grounded, to stay who he is and not to lose the person that he is," Washburn said of Ansah's mother. "That's what makes him unique. He's down-to-earth, he's a good young man. He doesn't have baggage."

While Ansah has been living away from his family for four years, he has had plenty of people to lean on in Utah. But now, Ansah won't have the luxury of being around the Washburns, or his BYU coaches, on a regular basis — as he's been accustomed to.

"Having that support system of the football program at BYU has been helpful to him," Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall has discussed putting a plan in place pertaining to Ziggy's future well-being.

"My ideal would be that Dan immediately get a hold of an LDS Church authority in the Detroit area and find a place where Ziggy can live and find a nice LDS family that's close by there that can provide a similar structure and a family environment that he's used to in Provo," Mendenhall said. "Dan will stay close to him and hopefully Ziggy will find good friends on Detroit's team and establish a good relationship with his position coach. That will give him the very best chance to succeed. I've advised him to surround himself with great people."

And the whirlwind continues for Ziggy Ansah.

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