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michael89156

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: April 12, 2013, 12:02:44 AM


Ziggy Ansah speeding through learning curve


Lindsay H. Jones, USA TODAY Sports

7:44p.m. EDT April 10, 2013


(Photo: George L. Frey for USA TODAY)


PROVO, Utah

 The smiles and the stares were the most difficult thing to get used to.

Even now, nearly five years after moving to Utah from Accra, Ghana, Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah finds it odd that strangers will smile at him when they pass him on the street, in restaurants and in stores. As Ansah left a pizza place north of campus this spring, patrons dining at three different tables stopped him to say hello or wish him luck at pro day or with the NFL draft.

Ansah, Brigham Young's 6-6, 270 defensive end, knew none of them.

"It's all white people here. Provo is a nice place. People are always smiling at you," Ansah said. "It's like, 'What? I don't even know you!'"

The entirety of Ansah's American experience has been in Provo, and in just a few weeks everything is going to change. Ansah is projected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft April 25, and with it will come a move to a new city, with new coaches and teammates and no built-in support system like he has enjoyed in college. At BYU, his coaches didn't curse. His teammates didn't party.

Ansah is a Mormon, baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 18. BYU officials plan for church leaders in Ansah's new city to help ease his transition. Even as BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, Ansah's team of agents and his former teammates in the NFL try to tell him about life as a professional athlete, Ansah still seems blissfully unaffected by his newfound fame as one of 2013's most intriguing prospects.

"You want to help him, because he's just so sincere, with this combination of naivety and a genuineness that is so contrary to college sports or even professional sports. You just want it to work," Mendenhall said. "Anyone who underestimates what he is capable of learning and how fast he can comprehend it and apply it, that would be a grave mistake."

GAME-CHANGER

This is nowhere near the life Ansah envisioned when he boarded a plane in Ghana headed for Utah in 2008. He had never seen a football game. If sports factored into his decision to move to the USA, it was only for the chance to try out for the basketball team. In his 19-year-old mind, Ansah thought he played basketball like LeBron James.

BYU's basketball coaches didn't agree, and he was cut after trying out to be a walk-on in 2008 and 2009. He spent a season running track, the 100- and 200- meter sprints, and competing in the triple jump before his track coach walked him over to Mendenhall's office.

With his tall frame, long arms, flexible hips and broad shoulders, it's as if Ansah was built to play football. He possesses track speed in a massive body.

But he watched the sport as a fan only after enrolling at BYU and had only a vague understanding of the rules. At his first practice, after a six-week probationary period in which he proved to coaches he would attend weightlifting sessions and meetings, Ansah needed help putting on his shoulder pads. The helmet felt wrong on his head.

And then there were the drills. Instructed to get into a two-point stance to mimic blocking a tight end, Ansah squatted on all fours, his rear end sticking out behind him, his palms on the grass. When the defensive linemen moved into bag drills, Ansah didn't know how to position his hands. Sometimes he would whiff and the heavy blue bag would smack him on the face mask.

"I looked at it as a great challenge, because he had the ability, now we have to find out if he has that heart, that desire, that will. Can he take a hit? Or would he say, 'Hey this is not for me.' That was the next thing, to see if he would take the punishment," said Steve Kaufusi, BYU's defensive line coach. "You have to have patience.

"Here at BYU, it's not like every day you get an athlete like that that walks through your doors."

He began playing on special teams in 2010 and increased his role to nickel pass rusher in 2011. Ansah's breakthrough came during spring practices in 2012, just a year ago. During 11-on-11 drills that March, Ansah seemed to record some sort of statistic a sack, a tackle for a loss, a forced fumble, a batted pass in every series.

After one of those spring practices, Mendenhall casually approached Ansah in the locker room and told him he had earned a scholarship. For Ansah, who had worked various jobs around campus to pay for his actuarial science and math classes, it was life-changing news. He could spend the summer studying and training, not working as a custodian and on the grounds crew.

"That alone was one of the coolest moments I've ever been able to do," Mendenhall said.

BREAKING OUT

Ansah wasn't a starter at the beginning of his senior season. He was just a situational pass rusher, still learning the techniques to be an all-around defensive lineman and still adjusting to the rigors of football practices and games.

After he would get singled out by Mendenhall in practices, he would ask teammates why he was being pushed so hard. The answer would always be the same: Because Mendenhall and the rest of the coaches saw unlimited potential.

The Cougars lost two defensive line starters in the first month of the season, and early in the fourth game BYU had no choice but to turn Ansah into an every-down player, starting with a goal-line series against Boise State in which he made two tackles. Later, for the first time, he stayed on the field for the duration of a 10-play defensive series.

"When he put it all together last season, it was like, 'All right, you have a chance to be really, really good,' and that's what's happened," BYU outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. "It's just crazy much he's picked up the game and how much of an impact he had for us last year."

Ansah finished his senior season with 41/2 sacks and 13 tackles for a losses modest numbers but not indicative of the progress he made or the effect he had on BYU's defense as he lined up as a traditional defensive end, slid inside to tackle and also at times rushed from a stand-up linebacker position.

"When he comes up on that stage on draft day, I hope he knows that anything I did in driving him, probably more than anybody else, it was because of who I thought he could become," Mendenhall said.

His relatives back home in Ghana mother Betty, father Edward and four older siblings have yet to see him play. He has seen his mother and one sister once since enrolling at BYU but is looking forward to as much of his family as possible traveling to New York for the draft.

There, he will introduce them to his new life, the one he never could have imagined just a few months ago, one he hopes will be able to change not just himself but his entire family.

"I have just got to live right," Ansah said. "I want to return with honor, you know?"

Benchwarmer#1

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#1 : April 12, 2013, 12:17:16 AM

A little bit of racism with your ego?

Naismith was right about Revis. Everyone else is a dummy.

GayRobot

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#2 : April 12, 2013, 12:38:24 AM

A little bit of racism with your ego?
What?

lyronmewis

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#3 : April 12, 2013, 01:06:20 AM

The problem with players like this is that I question their motivation. Guys who grew up with football want to be the best, they want the fame associated with it. The only motivation Ansah would have is money. He seems like he would be happy just making a few easy million and going onto another career.

The Anti-Java

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#4 : April 12, 2013, 01:49:05 AM

A little too risky of a pick for my blood.  But wish him well.  I would start thinking about after the 2nd or 3rd round, but from what I understand, he is being mocked, like top 5 or top 10.     Crazy.



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#5 : April 12, 2013, 02:05:39 AM

A little too risky of a pick for my blood.  But wish him well.  I would start thinking about after the 2nd or 3rd round, but from what I understand, he is being mocked, like top 5 or top 10.     Crazy.

If he's motivated and has good coaching, he's going to end up a pretty good player in a couple of years. I just doubt his motivation, and I doubt that he would get great coaching here. We also don't have a couple of years to spare to develop a good pass rusher.

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#6 : April 12, 2013, 02:16:25 AM

A little too risky of a pick for my blood.  But wish him well.  I would start thinking about after the 2nd or 3rd round, but from what I understand, he is being mocked, like top 5 or top 10.     Crazy.

If he's motivated and has good coaching, he's going to end up a pretty good player in a couple of years. I just doubt his motivation, and I doubt that he would get great coaching here. We also don't have a couple of years to spare to develop a good pass rusher.





I am always a little leery of these dudes, who didn't know how many points a field goal or touchdown is,  just a year or two ago.



jerseybucsfan

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#7 : April 12, 2013, 02:34:30 AM

We don't know his ceiling. He may not peak for six or seven years, by which time he may be on his second or third team.

In Verner We Trust

BucDaFackUp

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#8 : April 12, 2013, 07:04:06 AM

If he's there and you don't pick him, you will regret it....

Boid Fink

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#9 : April 12, 2013, 07:26:12 AM

This is the perfect guy for S.

Raw, and completely coachable. Unlike an older vet.


BucDaFackUp

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#10 : April 12, 2013, 08:08:01 AM

This is the perfect guy for S.

Raw, and completely coachable. Unlike an older vet.

Agreed. I think when you see this type of raw ability and great attitude, you almost HAVE to get him if he's there or risk playing the hindsight game we all know and love 3 or 4 years down the road...........

Benchwarmer#1

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#11 : April 12, 2013, 03:00:34 PM

A little bit of racism with your ego?
What?

He worries about "white" people being around him and he thinks he's just as good at b-ball as the "Phenom?"

If I walk into detroit and say, "gee, there are a lot of black guys here," is that seen as wrong? ..Maybe, maybe not, but why even bring it up in the first place?

..but hey, at least he didn't say something like, "all white people love crepes."  ;)

Naismith was right about Revis. Everyone else is a dummy.

GayRobot

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#12 : April 12, 2013, 03:06:17 PM

A little bit of racism with your ego?
What?

He worries about "white" people being around him and he thinks he's just as good at b-ball as the "Phenom?"

If I walk into detroit and say, "gee, there are a lot of black guys here," is that seen as wrong? ..Maybe, maybe not, but why even bring it up in the first place?

..but hey, at least he didn't say something like, "all white people love crepes."  ;)
He's from Ghana dude. Seriously stop trying to make something out of nothing. And as far as him thinking he was a good basketball player, he was saying he thought he was better than he was. Obviously he knows he wasn't very good at basketball now.

lyronmewis

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#13 : April 12, 2013, 03:20:08 PM

A little bit of racism with your ego?
What?

He worries about "white" people being around him and he thinks he's just as good at b-ball as the "Phenom?"

If I walk into detroit and say, "gee, there are a lot of black guys here," is that seen as wrong? ..Maybe, maybe not, but why even bring it up in the first place?

..but hey, at least he didn't say something like, "all white people love crepes."  ;)
He's from Ghana dude. Seriously stop trying to make something out of nothing. And as far as him thinking he was a good basketball player, he was saying he thought he was better than he was. Obviously he knows he wasn't very good at basketball now.

He didn't grow up with the convoluted race relations of the US. Something as simple as "there's a lot of *insert race" here" isn't racist.

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#14 : April 12, 2013, 06:12:58 PM

I was mostly kidding. (Still, seems like a "keep it to myself" moment though.)

With or without all that crap...Idk if I'd be ok with drafting him. Seems like he has all the measurables, but lacking upstairs a bit. A Myron Lewis in-wait if you will.

He's one of those guys, to me, that aren't "wow" signings, but could grow into something spectacular with proper coaching. His future might just depend on the team coaching staff that drafts him. Like the kid, but not sold on him in any way (other than physicality), and the bucs picking him would be more of a "luxury signing."

Still, the kid has fighting spirit, which I do like to see from football players.

Naismith was right about Revis. Everyone else is a dummy.
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