USA TODAY Sports
The Unexpected Face of BYU Football.
We all know the Ziggy story. No, seriously Rod Gilmore, we're good. Okay, just to review it real quick to the unknowing: Ezekiel Ansah arrived on the campus of Brigham Young University with thoughts of basketball and track stardom. He left with a pedigree in American Football and the very real prospect that he could end up a Top 10 NFL draft pick.
From not understanding how to put on his pads to playing professional football and providing an exceptional living to his future family. The Lord works in mysterious ways sometimes. It's great to see someone beginning to fulfill the measure of his athletic ability. And what we've seen from Ziggy is just the tip of the iceberg.
An African-American football player wearing the BYU uniform is among my favorite sights in life. Mostly, because it happens less here than any other FBS school. Omarr Morgan, Tim McTyer, Ronney Jenkins, Larry Moore, Brian Mitchell, Michael Reed, Todd Watkins, Jenaro Gilford, Brian McKenzie, Margin Hooks, Rey Braithwaite, Daniel Coats, Brian Logan, Brian Kehl, and Jamaal Williams, among others, have added a much needed racial diversity to the football squad and to the locality of Utah County in general. Not to mention playing some great football.
Just how white is Utah County, home of BYU? According to 2010 census data, just 0.5% of the population is African-American. Keith Jackson, while calling the BYU-USC game in 2003 remarked, "if you are 5 foot 9 and live in Orem, Utah, it looks like you play for BYU." Humor has a great way at showing the truth.
This piece is not designed for a greater discussion of race and Mormonism. I'll leave that to others. I mention it to illustrate just how unique the current Ziggy Phenomenon is to the culture and history of BYU athletics. Dan Smith, BYU? Try Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, BYU.
America, when thinking of a BYU Football player, does not imagine a 6-6, 270-pound black man from Accra, Ghana with insane athletic ability. And considering the immense growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on the continent of Africa and in Latin America, the idea of Mormonism being stocked with white people is a conception with a USA-centric bias. In this sense, Ziggy has the ability to change perceptions to better align with reality.
I remember noticing Ziggy Ansah during the 2010 campaign. Even then, he looked the part. His appearance and physical stature was the kind of thing I only saw from the teams that played against BYU. (I still have nightmares about Jerry Hughes.) I read up on his roster notes and became a fan. (Yes, I'm a Ziggy Hipster. Deal with it.) During that first year of play, he mostly covered kickoffs and ran around with no sense of direction, just pure, God-given speed.
More fans and media-types caught wind of his story as his junior season approached. Still, the product on the field was not up to the level of the hype. Then 2012 came to pass. Ansah kept getting better and better as the season wore on, until eventually, he, along with Kyle Van Noy, became the face of the unit. The BYU defense has simply never seen a player with this kind of raw athletic ability.
In the warm embrace of Bronco Mendenhall's defensive scheme, Ezekiel Ansah burst on the scene. Ziggy finished the season with 62 tackles, 35 of those solo, 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and an immeasurably bright future. He is still learning the game. It's scary just how great this guy could be.
NFL draft scouts and team personnel are in awe of his measurables and some have even surmised that Ansah should be the first player drafted. It is an amazing ride for the man from the sub-Saharan Gold Coast of Ghana. The word Ghana means "Warrior King" and Ezekiel Ansah is on a path to be crowned a pioneer in more than one aspect.
Get em, Zeke.