Of all the prospects in this year’s NFL draft, BYU pass-rusher Ezekiel Ansah has experienced the most meteoric rise. When the draft kicks off Thursday night, it’s expected that Ansah (pronounced “Ahn-saw”) will hear his name called among the first 10 picks, and possibly in the top five.
Going that high in the draft is a major accomplishment for any football player. But it’s even more remarkable for Ansah, who didn’t even know what football was until 2008.
Ansah, nicknamed “Ziggy,” arrived in the United States from Accra, Ghana, with an academic scholarship to Brigham Young, which he chose because of his Mormon faith. He grew up playing soccer and basketball and running track, and hoped to earn a spot on BYU’s basketball team. After failed attempts in 2008 and 2009, he joined the track team (he owned a personal best of 21.9 seconds in the 200-meter dash).
In 2010, Ansah decided to try out for football, believing he possibly could catch on as a tight end or outside linebacker.
“I was really athletic. 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,” Ansah said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
He made the team as a sophomore, at outside linebacker in the Cougars’ 3-4 system. He played sparingly as an outside linebacker and special teamer his first two seasons. But when BYU switched to a 4-3 scheme for his senior year, Ansah flourished. He played in all 13 games, starting nine of them, and recorded 62 tackles (13 for losses) and 4.5 sacks.
Ansah received an invitation to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in January, and after an average week of practice, he looked like a different player in the game, dominating with 3.5 tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks. NFL teams came away impressed, believing he could play either defensive end or outside linebacker.