PROVO, Utah (ABC 4 Sports) - It has been quite a journey for BYU linebacker Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah.
Growing up in Accra, Ghana, Ziggy didn't know much about American football.
"I knew nothing," Ansah clarified. "I knew about basketball, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, but nothing about football."
Three years ago at the age of 19, Ansah traveled over 7,000 miles to Provo to attend BYU. He ran track for the Cougars in 2009, specializing in the 200 meters. But when friends and family encouraged him to try out for the football team, Ansah decided to give it a shot. He had all the physical tools necessary, but there was one problem. Ziggy had no idea how to put on his pads.
"I first put on my helmet to try it out because I have a real big head," Ziggy recalled. "Somebody walked by and smacked me and I said, 'Oh my goodness, this is going to be terrible.' I didn't know where to put the rest of my pads. A couple teammates helped me though."
Ziggy figured out his equipment, and then set his sites on figuring out the game. A physical specimen at 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, Ansah could run like the wind, but didn't know the proper technique as a defender. With Bronco Mendenhall's help, Ansah picked up the defensive schemes quickly.
"I haven't seen anyone pick up the game like he has," Mendenhall said. "He's playing up to three positions per game, plus multiple special teams. So, from where he was to now, that's unheard of."
After playing sparingly in 2011, Ansah has burst on the scene this year as a hybrid linebacker-defensive end. He is second on the team in tackles for loss (8.5), and third on the team in sacks (3). Not bad for a guy who never picked up a football until 2009.
Ziggy plays like a beast on the field, but being so soft-spoken off the field, it wasn't easy developing an aggressive mentality.
"It took him a while to to learn to be mean and physical," said quarterback Riley Nelson. "It was almost like he didn't know he could throw guys around. He didn't know he could just knock them over and just make the game look as easy as he does."
"He's a great player, but he also has lots of room for improvement," said linebacker Kyle Van Noy, Ziggy's roommate on road trips. "He's raw and has a lot of upside to him. He just picks up on everything so fast because he's so smart. That's what he doesn't get enough credit for. He's like a statistics major or something crazy like that."
Actually, Ziggy is an actuarial science major and he wants to eventually work for an insurance company. Until then, his opponents better have good insurance.
Ziggy's play has attracted plenty of NFL scouts, and with his physical abilities, he has a great chance of getting drafted in April. But Ansah isn't letting all the hype go to his head.
"I don't think he even knows what the hype would mean and what it really is to be honest with you," Nelson said. "I think there's still a little bit of naiveté there because the game is so foreign to him."
"I see them around," Ansah said about the NFL scouts. "But my focus right now is my team. I'll let the NFL take care of itself."
There are only a handful of NFL players that have ever come from Ghana. His family back in Africa can only watch him play on ESPN, but maybe next year they'll be able to see him play on Sundays.
"Hopefully," Ziggy said with a smile.
"Ziggy is a remarkable story," said Mendenhall. "You could make a movie out of it."