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.

Super Bowl bets and ads
Super Bowl bets and ads

    JUST WATCHED

    Super Bowl bets and ads

MUST WATCH

Super Bowl bets and ads 05:00

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.

Read: Lewis, Ravens fly away with Super Bowl title

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."

        Sports spotlight

      • AG2R pair Peraud and Romain Bardet (right) thrilled the French fans with their performances on the 2014 Tour de France.

        When will French win Le Tour?

        Whisper it quietly, but after years of foreign domination the prospect of a French winner of the Tour de France is more than just a mere pipe dream.
      • Steve Way leads the in the Commonwealth Games marathon with the favorites massing behind him.

        From 20-a-day man to 26.2 miles

        Seven years ago Steve Way was a 20 per day smoker and weighed a hefty 104 kg, but he led the marathon at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
      • The queen of the selfies

        After just one day of competition, a new sport has emerged at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow: snapping selfies with the Queen.
      • Joanna Rowsell is flanked by Australian duo Annette Edmonson and Amy Cure (right) after the medal presentation for the women's individual pursuit.

        Rowsell stands proud again

        Inspirational cyclist Joanna Rowsell added another gold to her growing collection in the individual pursuit at the Commonwealth Games.
      • GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 23: John Barrowman performs during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

        Gay kiss steals Glasgow show

        At the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, an actor upstaged the Queen by kissing a male dancer.
      • Daniel Carter of the All Blacks in action during the Third Test Match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France at Yarrow Stadium on June 22, 2013 in New Plymouth, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

        Can the All Blacks make history?

        The All Blacks and their fans are focused on one thing, says Dan Carter: becoming the first rugby nation to win back-to-back World Cups.
      • FOR USE ON CNN PHOTO BLOG ONLY

        Three days with 'The Greatest'

        Photographer Danny Lyon spent three days with Muhammad Ali in 1972 and shares his best photos and memories of the champ.
      • SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23:  Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada celebrates after scoring his team's second goal in the second period during the Men's Ice Hockey Gold Medal match against Sweden on Day 16 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

        Can ice hockey go global?

        With a growing audience boosted by the drama of ice hockey on show in Sochi at the Winter Olympics, can the sport capitalize on its popularity?
      • The first cover star of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, Babette March

        Swimsuit legacy: First cover model

        Her paintings may sell for thousands of dollars, but she is best known for a modeling shot 50 years ago that helped launch a business empire.