NFL Draft: 'Ziggy' Ansah's journey to gridiron sprinkled with stardust

Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah was born in the Ghanaian capital of Accra.

Story highlights

  • Ezekiel Ansah is picked fifth overall in the NFL Daft in New York
  • Ansah, known as "Ziggy", will play for the Detroit Lions
  • The 23-year-old arrived in the U.S. in 2008 on an academic scholarship at Brigham Young University
  • Ansah tried out for the basketball team before taking up gridiron in 2010

From a young basketball hopeful in Accra, Ghana to fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft for the Detroit Lions.

Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah's journey to the top of gridiron has been sprinkled with more than a hint of stardust.

When the 23-year-old, who also played soccer as a child, moved to the United States in 2008, he couldn't have dreamed of what came to pass in New York on Thursday on the opening day of the Draft, when the NFL's 32 teams pick up young college talent.

"I've worked hard toward this and I actually earned it," Ansah, who only began playing football in 2010, told reporters on a conference call after being drafted by the Lions.

"It's been a humbling experience and a crazy journey."

The 23-year-old Ghanaian arrived in the U.S. on an academic scholarship with the Brigham Young University in Utah, which is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints -- more commonly known as the Mormon Church.

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Keen to pursue his hoop dreams, Ansah tried out for the basketball team, but after failing to make the grade, he took up athletics because of his sprinting speed.

Ansah ran the 100 meters in 10.91 seconds and the 200m in 21.89 secs, according to the official website of the Lions.

When you couple that athletic speed with an imposing six feet five inches frame -- Ansah weighs 275 pounds -- it is not hard to see why he appealed to the school's football team.

Despite his lack of playing experience, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew suggested he can be an immediate asset for the team.

"I do see him as an impactful player right away," said Mayhew. "Sacks come when they come ... but he's going to be a guy that will play a big role for us on defense."

Read: The lowdown on the NFL draft

Ansah's adjustment to life in the NFL might be made all the easier as he has already worked with Lions head coach Jim Schwartz at the Senior Bowl -- the annual game which pits the best Draft prospects against each other.

"It will be a lot easier. I'm really comfortable with them," added Ansah, whose mother Elizabeth was flown over to join her son at New York's Radio City Music Hall, where the Draft is held.

"I know how our coach is so, you know, just like giving me that chance is going to make it a lot easier.

"It doesn't matter the experience that I've got. All I know is I've just got to produce and work on my technique and I know that the Detroit Lions are willing to work with me.

"I'm not going to make any promises. All I have to do is work hard and see what happens."

Schwartz, who coached a team of prospects from schools in the south in the Senior Bowl, has been impressed with what he saw from Ansah.

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The Lions coach will be hoping Ansah, who was the Senior Bowl's most outstanding player, can improve a Detroit team which had a losing record of 4-12 in 2012.

"We watched him get better every single day," said Schwartz. "He's an inexperienced player, but he's a very instinctive player. We liked everything about him. We had a good feel for him.

"He's inexperienced, but he's not a developmental player."