PROVO — At the end of what he describes as "the longest year of my life," former BYU star Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah still takes time to reflect on his remarkable journey to the NFL.
Driven by doubt, his journey from Ghana to BYU and then the NFL has been well-chronicled and will likely serve as a great source of inspiration for years to come.
Ansah’s story is truly remarkable and completely extraordinary — even to himself during certain moments of his busy days.
“Sometimes during practice I’ll just look at myself and man, I’m holding a Lions' helmet — I’m an NFL player,” Ansah said during BYU’s football media day on Monday.
Ansah took time out of his busy schedule to visit the place where his football career began. Back in 2010, he donned shoulder pads for the first time on BYU's campus.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has gone on record several times about being incredulous that Ansah kept showing up after being beaten down time and again during those initial practice sessions. Turns out that Mendenhall's incredulity is part of what drove Ansah back then. Doubt still motivates him today.
“One thing that really drives me is when somebody doubts me,” Ansah said. “It doesn’t put me down at all. When somebody doubts you, that is when you have that little edge and do the extra work. So every single day I put it in the back of my head, 'I’m not just here to play college ball and just leave.' My main goal was to play in the NFL. ... I was going to do whatever I could to prove that I could.”
Ansah, the No. 5 draft pick of the 2013 NFL draft, rose to the occasion as a rookie for the Detroit Lions — earning himself a starting spot and leading the team in sacks with eight.
His rookie year in the rearview mirror, Ansah aims to reach even greater heights his second year after experiencing the sharp learning curve of being an NFL player.
“The hardest part was trying to stay healthy and to play through all 16 games,” Ansah said of his first year. “I’m going to take care of my body better to play all 16-plus games this year.”
Ansah has learned to approach the game as a business in the NFL and is continually striving for an edge over the competition.
“In the pros you got to do whatever you can to stay in the game,” Ansah said. “You don’t want anyone taking your job. Obviously in college you want to start, but it’s different in college in that it’s now your job. And just like any other job you don’t want to get fired and you don’t want anyone to take your position. So whether it’s those two extra hours you spend in the weight room or that extra hour to watch film, you have to put in the work.”
While adjusting well to the business side of the NFL, Ansah differs somewhat from other professional athletes in how he conducts himself off the practice field. While some teammates spend their time off living it up with their new-found wealth, Ansah prefers a calmer pace.
“I don’t really do much. I just go to practice, come home, relax, sleep, play some FIFA (video game),” Ansah said. “If you want to go crazy, you can go crazy, and if you want to just relax (and) chill, you can.”
One new teammate who may now share Ansah's proclivity toward a slower pace is former BYU teammate Kyle Van Noy, who now joins Ansah anew after being drafted by the Lions in the second round. Both players will embark on training camp in a little less than a month when Ansah will help Van Noy through what will become the longest year of his life.
Although fully ingrained in his own personal NFL lifestyle, Ansah still misses certain aspects of being at BYU. It's part of the reason he chose to come back for a brief moment Monday.
“It’s an LDS school, obviously, where you’re just surrounded by great, great people,” Ansah said. “People who always try and do what is right. The honor code definitely helps everyone keep straight. ... When you don’t have that, you miss it. There’s great people (at BYU.)”