October 15, 2013

Ghanian Ziggy Ansah Discovers Football and Becomes First Draft NFL Pick

Photo Courtesy of BYU Frontiers Magazine

My husband and I were able to fly to Utah to see the Georgia Tech vs. Brigham Young University game last weekend.  While in town, we learned of a remarkable BYU alumni football player with a great story.  Although Ezekial (Ziggy) Ansah was born and raised in Ghana, he became a first round number 5 draft pick in the NFL last year.  

Ziggy was always athletic growing up in Accra, Ghana.  He loved to play soccer and basketball, and helped his school basketball team win many games.  Because of his hard work on the court, he was voted most valuable player.  Plus he was a bright kid.  His friends say he was the smartest kind in the school, getting a perfect score on their SAT equivalent test. 

Missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints frequented the basketball court at his local high school, playing pick-up basketball when they had some free time.  After meeting on the court, the missionaries began to teach Ziggy the gospel of Jesus Christ and Ziggy believed it was true.  He joined the Church when he was 18.  Although the missionaries are transient, Ziggy stayed in contact with Elder Ken Frei, one of the missionaries who baptized him.  After Ziggy graduated from high school in 2007, Ken suggested that he attend BYU and join the basketball team. 

Ziggy applied to BYU and was accepted for the 2008 academic year.  His grades qualified him for an academic scholarship.  To pay the rest of his expenses, Ziggy took a job as a janitor on campus.  Ziggy was probably thrilled to have such a great opportunity to obtain an education.  For Ghanians, education is the key out of 'economic prison.'  And he could join the basketball team.

But Ziggy was cut from the basketball team in 2008 and 2009.  He tried the track team and did well, but his build wasn’t ideal for track, and the coaches didn’t think it was the best fit.  At 6’6” tall and 270+ pounds muscle, he really looked like a football player.  Ziggy understood Soccer, but had never really played or even watched American Football.  With some persuasion from his new friends, Ziggy tried football.  He walked on the team in 2010 and gave it his best.

His coaches said that Ziggy didn’t even know how to put on the gear they gave him at first.  He had to learn the basics of the game to even practice with the team.  But Ziggy learned quickly.  In his first game of play mid-season, he made a great tackle.  After that, Ziggy got a few minutes of play time in each game and kept improving both that year and his Junior year at BYU.

Ziggy got his big break in 2012 as a Senior when a player hurt his knee and Ziggy was given his spot as ‘noseguard’ on the defensive squad.  Now playing each game consistently, Ziggy gave BYU everything he had.  As the season finished, Ziggy was third in number of tackles, second in number of sacks, and first in number of tackles with a loss!  His hard work and study paid off.  A football scholarship that year allowed Ziggy to quit his janitor job, probably helping him succeed.  

NFL scouts didn’t even have Ziggy on their mock drafts earlier in the season.  But by the final draft, Ziggy was listed as the number 5 first round draft pick in the NFL.  The Detroit Lions offered him a 5 year contract the same day he graduated from BYU with a Bachelors degree in Actuary Science and a  minor in Math.  Ziggy is playing marvelously for this team.  

Ziggy’s decision to join the LDS church opened doors for him he may not have understood in 2007.  Through his church membership and good grades, he was exposed to BYU and football, where he applied hard work and determination to gain success.  If there is a ‘rags to riches’ story in football, this is it!  No matter what our background, with a little opportunity and a lot of hard work, amazing things can happen.


Wikipedia, "Ezekial Ansah" updated 15 October 2013.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezekiel_Ansah

Profile from BYU Homecoming Spectacular 11 October 2013.

Call, Jeff.  Deseret News.  25 April 2013.  "Ziggy Ansah dons cap and gown prior to heading off to NFL draft." 14 Oct 2013  http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865578964/Ziggy-Ansah-dons-cap-and-gown-prior-to-heading-off-to-NFL-draft.html?pg=all

Frontiers, BYU College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Fall 2013, p. 2. http://cpms.byu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/FINAL-for-Web-Spreads.pdf

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