INDIANAPOLIS – At the age of 20, when Ezekiel Ansah heard the word “football,” his mind shifted to a game on the pitch played with a checkered ball.
A native of Ghana, Ansah (who is better known as “Ziggy”) first pursued a basketball career after a Mormon missionary led him to Brigham Young University.
Ziggy’s basketball career fizzled out, and the thought of not having something else to do quickly took the six-foot-five-inch athlete to the gridiron.
“I didn’t want to just sit around and go to school. I wanted to do something. Since basketball didn’t work out, I wanted to do football,” said Ansah, now 23.
At first it was a struggle on the football field for Ansah.
The potential was there, but he was extremely raw. Ansah never even had watched an actual football game until arriving at BYU.
Days at practice would go by with Ansah taking baby steps, while his fellow Cougars were striving for another post-season bowl appearance.
“In comparison to other people that are out there and I’ve been playing only a few years, I still have a lot to do just to catch up to them,” Ansah said at this year’s NFL Combine.
“I try to stay up late and watch (the) NFL Network. I see some things. I have no idea who they are. This is going to be my life, so I just try to suck it all in.”
After playing mainly on special teams for BYU in 2011, Ansah got his first taste as a starter at defensive end this past season for the Cougars.
He finished the season with 62 tackles (13 for losses) and 4.5 sacks. Now, it is the scouts’ turn to dissect Ansah’s film and decide if he can reach the potential of a top-10 pick.
“He's got as much upside as anybody in this draft,” NFL Network Analyst Mike Mayock said of the 270-pound Ansah, who clocked a 4.63 40-yard dash at the combine.
“I don't think there is anybody in the NFL that doesn't think he's going to be a good player. But the question is when? Is it this year, next year or three years from now?”
Another question that NFL personnel are being faced with when evaluating Ansah is where exactly he fits in a defensive scheme.
“Can (Ansah) play 3-4 outside linebacker? He's so gifted, some teams are looking at him as a 3-4 outside linebacker,” said Mayock. “Other teams are saying with that frame, he could be 290 (pounds) and be a 3-4 defensive end.
“Teams are looking at him as a 4-3 end, a 3-4 outside linebacker and a 3-4 end. You can't say that about many kids, and it goes to his unbelievable athletic ability and huge frame.”
Ansah’s skill set is an anomaly, and the fact that he is doing so well with his four siblings and parents on another continent is even more impressive.
A son of a sales manager and a nurse, Ansah leaves BYU with a statistics degree, and he is soon to be crunching the numbers of a first-round draft pick thanks to his new-found love.
“This is a really humbling experience for me. I’m really lucky to be in my shoes,” Ansah said. “I’m going to be dedicated and do everything I can just to be the best player. I want to be the best player at this position.”
LOOKING AT THE 2013 NFL DRAFT'S DEFENSIVE ENDS
THE LAST FIVE
The last five defensive ends drafted by the Colts:
2008: Marcus Howard, fifth round, Georgia
2007: Keyunta Dawson, seventh round, Texas Tech
2005: Jonathan Welsh, fifth round, Wisconsin
THIS YEAR'S DRAFT
An alphabetical list of defensive ends expected to be selected in the 2012 NFL Draft (*-denotes underclassman):
Ziggy Ansah, Brigham Young
Malliciah Goodman, Clemson
Margus Hunt, SMU
Dion Jordan, Oregon
Barkevious Mingo*, LSU
Damontre Moore*, Texas A&M
Alex Okafor, Texas
Cornelius Washington, Georgia
Bjoern Werner*, Florida State
Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.