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BYU Getting Ziggy With It

1 August 2012 Brett Richins 33 Comments

Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah (BYU photo).

He’s stands six-feet, six-inches tall, checks in at 270 pounds and runs a sub 22-second 200 meter dash.

In a word, he is a beast.

In two words, he is a freak athlete.

A native of Accra, Ghana in Africa, Ezekiel Ansah walked on to the BYU football team in 2010 and wowed players and coaches with his athleticism and impressed them with his drive and work ethic.

The only problem was that he had never played a down of American football. In fact, he didn’t even know how to put on his pads when he showed up for the first day of drills.

He was an accomplished soccer and basketball athlete but had never stepped onto the gridiron.

After joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ghana, Ansah came to BYU on an academic scholarship in 2008 and made two unsuccessful attempts to walk on to Dave Rose’s basketball team. The following year he joined the track team and ran a 10.91 in the 100-meter dash in addition to clocking a time of 21.89 seconds in the 200 meters.

He then decided to turn his attention to football.

“Ezekiel wandered through our office one day,”  Bronco Mendenhall explained to the media back in 2010. “I think our players kind of directed him, seeing he’s 6-foot-whatever. He runs a 21.9 200-meters, but we had to help him put his stuff on. He’d never put gear on before”

“He’s a work in progress but he wanted to give it a try. He showed up this summer and the players loved him, and he wouldn’t go away. He kind of grew on (his teammates) and they came to me and said ‘make sure you bring him in the 105.’ He doesn’t know anything, but when he decides to run fast, he runs fast, and he’s big.”

In the two years since, Ziggy, as he is known to friends, teammates and fans, has been learning the game and slowing gaining the confidence of Mendenhall. The big question is if he has progressed enough to give Mendenhall enough confidence in him to give him more opportunity and responsibility.

In his first season as a sophomore, he played defensive end and saw action in just six games. Last year he was moved to linebacker and played in 12 games, recording seven tackles and a quarterback hurry.

From the beginning Ziggy was fast, but he was also relatively easy to knock off balance and was not particularly good at using his hands or getting off blocks. But now as a senior, Anzah seems to have a much better grasp of how to play the game and may be poised to make a significant impact in the fall.

During spring camp in March, he was cross-trained to play both defensive end and linebacker. He possesses the kind of freakish, raw talent that might just catch the attention of some NFL teams looking for that coveted outside pass rusher. If he were to find his way into the NFL, it would be an ironic development for a guy who dreamed of playing professional basketball in the NBA.

But in order to get a shot at the pros, he will likely need to see more time on the field this year. Mendenhall and his coaches know they have a player with a rare level of athleticism on their hands, the only question is how to best utilize his God-given abilities. They have talked openly that the sky is the limit for Ziggy and that he has definite NFL-level athleticism.

One way you might see the talented Ghanaian used is as a defensive end lined up on the weakside in front of outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy on passing downs. Imagine the threat of having both of those freaks coming off the edge if you are an opposing offensive tackle or quarterback.

And with Ziggy’s ability to play in space, the Cougars would also have the option of dropping him into coverage while bringing just Van Noy on a blitz.  It would be the kind of combination that could cause a great deal of confusion and disruption for offenses, and Ansah’s speed and length could cause havoc in the throwing lanes for opposing QBs.

It will be interesting see just how Mendenhall chooses to employ Ansah’s talents in 2012. Many in Cougar Nation are hoping he chooses to unleash the beast on some poor, unsuspecting victims.

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33 Comments »

  • walt hanssen said:

    Brett- great article but why not try find out what his time is in the 40…that will be mire relevant

  • Dave Carter said:

    Walt,
    Using my sub-par math skills, based on the numbers posted in the article his 40 time is roughly 4.2 to 4.4.

    Don’t take that to the bank though.

  • spamdawg said:

    What a great story. I’ve been pulling for him for awhile. I have a good friend from Ghana who told me about him. I hope that he can earn the playing time and make the plays. I got goose bumps when you mentioned him and Kyle together. I don’t know all the elegibility rules but if he walked on in 2010 wouldn’t he still be able to play a few more years if he wanted?

  • walt hanssen said:

    Dave- thanks, I figured based on what his teammates & coaches have saidq that he had to be at least in the 4.5 range but very few WR’s/DB’s have run in the 4.2’s (I don’t think even Bolt is that quick.

  • Dave Carter said:

    Walt,

    lol, my match skills are rudimentary. You’re right, he’s no Bolt.

  • Brett Richins (author) said:

    Walt,
    If you can find a published report for him in the 40, let me know. All I know is that a 10.9 time in the 100 meters for a man that weighed 254 pounds at the time is unheard of. That’s plenty fastest enough in my book without knowing his forty time.

  • Brett Richins (author) said:

    spamdawg,

    Because he ran track for a year before football, his eligibility clock had already started before he starting playing football. Therefore he was a sophomore during his first year on the team in 2010.

  • Martin said:

    Brett,
    Thanks for the write up. Is there any truth to the rumors that Bronco has consulted with NFL defensive coaches to figure out how best to use Ansah? I remember reading that Bronco and some of his defensive staff had travelled to Houston and met with the Texans defensive coaches. Also, what do you make of.the fact that Ansah was one of only 6 players featured in the recent 2012 football commercial? Can we infer from this that Ansah will play a bigger role this season?

  • AZ_Coug said:

    With that kind of speed, are there more options for Ziggy on Special Teams? (In addition to the great thoughts above)

  • SoCal Cougar Fan said:

    With that athleticism he would be awesome if we can coach him up to being productive, if only in specific situations. I’me very excited for this year.

  • Catmanblue said:

    Ziggy can fly once he gets going, but he tends to run high and thus is easy to knock off balance. Most high school players learn to run low when they get into traffic, but Ziggy didn’t pick that up right away–and even last year tended to make himself vulnerable to chip blocks. He’s also had to learn how to work in concert with his own players (using their bodies to create lanes for himself). This year will be his last chance to learn the nuances of football well enough to see playing time–then hopefully to earn some interest from coaches at the next level. If he picks it up, he could be a difference-maker in some big games.

    But either way, he’ll always be a crowd-favorite to watch on kick-off teams.

  • Brett Richins (author) said:

    Martin,

    Ask and ye shall receive. BYU coaches met with a number of NFL and college staffs this year, but I have no confirmation that Ziggy was discussed. I have no idea if the video is any indication that coaches plan to use him more this season.

  • David L. said:

    Dave,

    In this age of inflated 40 times where everybody and their grandma has an “officially timed” 4.5 forty, I would much rather see a person’s 100 or 200 meter dash times as an accurate indicator of how fast they really are. Those numbers are 100% trustworthy.

    40 times are, for the most part, a load of crap.

    For some perspective, here are the fastest 100m times in Utah this year:
    http://www.athletic.net/trackandfield/Division/Event.aspx?DivID=34757&Gender=M&Event=1

    here are the fastest 200m times:
    http://www.athletic.net/trackandfield/Division/Event.aspx?DivID=34757&Gender=M&Event=2

    Ziggy would be have the 4th fastest time in the 200m this year, and the 6th fastest time in the 100m. Most of those kids probably weigh at least 100 lbs less.

  • David L. said:

    Sorry Dave – my last comment was meant for Walt.

  • Lance Archibald said:

    Dave, you can’t really use math on a 100 meter or 200 meter time to figure out their 40 time, because the first 40 yards is the slowest 40 yards of any sprint. 4.5 would probably be about right, because even with Usain Bolt, his start isn’t as fast as the other shorter, smaller sprinters, it’s his top speed where he gets ahead and runs past everybody else.

  • Dave Carter said:

    Lance,

    Very good point, I didn’t really think about it like that.

  • scott715 said:

    He will play on coverage special teams. Should also try to block kicks. I bet against Weber St. he will most of the game.

  • BigCougar said:

    @Walt Hanssen
    “Brett- great article but why not try find out what his time is in the 40…that will be mire relevant”

    Bad idea Walt, if his 40 time turns out to be 4.3 or lower then there’s a good chance the Yewts will offer him. If he’s 4.4 we’re safe.

  • walt hanssen said:

    David L the 40 time is the only relevant time in football & if you don’t believe it check out what they measure at the NFL Combine. Maybe it isn’t accurate in college but it sure is there & if a player at any position except a kicker wants to play in the NFL they better concentrate on doing it well based on his position. That’s why we have very few players from BYU making it lately because we lack speed. And for that matter we don’tbo well in the bench press either just ask Matt Reynolds. Speed & strength are still keys to being drafted and our brothers up north get it & have it

  • MaxPower said:

    Ziggy is wicked fast once he gets going and always fun to watch on kick coverage, but I don’t think he has a real mind for football.

    I know he literally started at ground zero, but in 2 years all he has is 7 tackles and a QB hurry. Wish they would have just trained him at D end and not tried to teach him how to be linebacker as well.

    Since linebacker is a bit more of a cognitive position (and we’re already so deep there) I hope he can find a niche at defensive end and cause some problems in the backfield.

    Not expecting much, but here’s hoping.

  • Walt Hanssen said:

    MaxPower- Very well said!

  • David L said:

    Walt,

    The NFL combine is one of the only times I trust. I know the 40 is the main measure for football, but in high school and college most of the times they give are hand-timed and are prone to manipulation.

  • KentuckyCougar said:

    Ziggy is an animal!!! Hope we get to see him play a lot and he can fulfil his goals!

  • El Jefe said:

    Thanks Brett for the article on Ziggy. I was wanting to hear more about him. The first two games would be perfect for Ziggy. Pass happy wazzu and weakling weber state. That should get him enough experience to get him going for the rest of the season.

  • FL Cosmo said:

    Whatever his experience, Ansah looks the part of a monster football player. How could you not use him in your media? Hope he gets to make a difference on the field.

  • BigCougar said:

    @Walt Hanssen

    “David L the 40 time is the only relevant time in football & if you don’t believe it check out what they measure at the NFL Combine. …And for that matter we don’tbo well in the bench press either just ask Matt Reynolds. Speed & strength are still keys to being drafted and our brothers up north get it & have it”

    40 time isn’t always a good indicator. Rod Wilkerson and Chris Hales both had 4.3 40 time and yet they were only fast when running in a straight line. Austin Collie is a good example of the importance of being able to move in and out of cuts without losing speed and that’s something that’s not easy for a lot of speed burners to do.

    Ute DB Bryce McCain was a sub 4.3 guy yet how many times did we see Collie blow by him and leave him in the dirt where McCain had to reach out and grab at Collie to slow him down? Collie was a high 4.5 to 4.6 guy and yet he’s been a very good NFL WR. Same with Jerry Rice. The speed does help to get you noticed but there are a lot of speedy guys who don’t make it in the NFL because all they rely on is their speed and they never develop any technique. The NFL is also rich with guys who were all time greats at their position that were not fast (STeve Largent).

    Same goes with Bench press marks and Off Tackles, esp Left Tackles. Lateral quickness for a LT is more important than 40 time or bench press totals. BYU has turned out some pretty good Off Guards in recent years that were very strong and turned out very good bench press numbers including Travis Bright, Scott Young (set an NFL combine record iirc) and Ray Feinga to name a few. Matt Reynolds BP numbers were just average for an OL but compared to other LT’s they were better than average.

    Don’t get sucked into the myth that Utah has some magic way of finding fast players and we can only recruit slow ones. They don’t have a linebacker on their team that’s as fast as KVN or Ziggy Ansah are. Also Jordan Johnson and Preston Hadley are both 4.4 40 guys and that’s plenty fast for a CB and certainly NFL speed for that position.

    Bryce McCain’s vaunted 4.29 40 speed certainly didn’t keep him from getting burned like toast by the much slower Austin Collie play after play and it definitely didn’t help him on 4th and 18!

  • BigCougar said:

    Thanks for the links David L on fastest sprint times in Utah.

    Wow, BYU commit Jake Arslanian is fast. The DN reported his fastest 100m time was 10.6. He’s supposed to run track for a year on scholly at BYU then go on his mission. When he returns he’ll report to the football team and WR coach Ben Cahoon to play WR also on the football team.

  • Walt Hanssen said:

    BigCougar- I really don’t know where you are coming from with this 40 time. I am quite aware of Jerry Rice because I have been a Niner fan since the 60’s. But, he still has great speed when compared to BYU receiver speed. After we beat TCU two years in a row in 06 & 07, Coach Patterson focused on beating us by increasing overall team speed while we got bigger and slower and guess what, he hasn’t lost to us since. One thing we have lacked is overall team speed and until we get it we won’t get Coach Mendenhall’s next level which is being consistently ranked in the top 10, & you know what, I think we will because our overall team speed is better this year. So, whether you want to say 40 time or overall team speed, it’s the same thing. And by the way, speed kills!

  • Seasider said:

    Walt,

    While I agree that having team speed is important to a successful program, I don’t think it’s a magic bullet that will suddenly make things better for BYU. In the case of TCU, there are a lot of factors at play as to why they’ve had our number since 2008 and it’s not all related to team speed.

  • Walt Hanssen said:

    Seasider- you speak in generalities; I get my input from Brian Logan who with a few other ex-players talked with TCU players and compared how they train and especially their weight lifting program to them. It’a all about speed at every position and according to Brian and other players. Even the OL & DL were training to play fast. Coach Omer is years behind in what he was doing with emphasis on strong man type training. Even the DB’s were lifting high weight and low reps which is ludicrous. I think Brett may have mentioned that they now have a nutritionist but the remaining key is that they need to replace Omer with someone like Steve Stroshine who all NFL bound prospects use prior to going to the NFL combine. Yes, there probably were other factors that Patterson used to change their program but their were two keys:

    1. Patterson focused on beating BYU;Coach Mendenhall says he only concentrates on his team and not the opponent; that may be one of the problems because part of football is knowing everything about your opponents and figuring out a way to beat them
    2. He concentrated on team speed…at every position, even OL & DL

    You can downplay team speed all you want but in the end those who don’t have it have a weakness that their opponents can point and destroy. Any coach at any level will tell you that your opponent who has greater speed can kill you.

    THE ART OF WAR (& SPORTS)

    “Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to the battle will arrive exhausted.

    Therefore, the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.

    Hence, that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.

    O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy’s fate in our hands.”

    SUN TZU WU (written 512, B.C. – 496, B.C.)

    TCU arrived on the field first so to speak, they knew us backwards & forwards, were better prepared and imposed their will on us; it’s as simple as that. Yes, desire & being position perfect are keys too but give me the choice of two players who have these qualities, and one has speed and one doesn’t, I’ll take the one with better speed every time. You want to go see a team that imposes their will on their opponents…go see Quincy Lewis’ Lone Peak basketball team. They play fast and they are as intense on offense and defense pressuring their opponent (trapping them all over the court, getting up in their face and hounding them & running every second on offense) as any team at any level and in any sport that I have ever seen. Even their AAU preseason opponents who are some of the best teams in the country can’t believe that a bunch of white kids from Utah can play that well. That’s how we need to play on the football field but to do so we have to be physically, mentally & spiritually (not Religiously…there is a big difference) in top shape to be able to impose our will on our opponents. We are making changes to slim down and play faster, we are eating better and now we need to lift better and know our opponents better and then we will be able to get into the top 10.

  • BigCougar said:

    @Walt Hanssen

    You said in an earlier post to David L:

    ““David L, the 40 time is the only relevant time in football”

    and to me you just said:

    “I really don’t know where you are coming from with this 40 time”

    OK, you’re throwing curveballs here. Later in another post you switched and went about face and stopped preaching 40 times and started talking about team speed. Just curious, in your public life are you a politician? ;)

    As for Jerry Rice, he was not stopwatch 40 time fast (4.7) which you said was the only relevant time in football. yet when you watched him on the field he looked faster than the guys trying to cover him. The reason for that is because the 40 time isn’t the most relevant time in football. People may hyperventilate over a 4.3 time, but where the rubber meets the road (or the cleat meets the turf) it’s not that relevant. How much of football is played in 40 meter straight lines? Very little.

    There is such a thing as football speed and during the Crowton and Mendenhall era we’ve been recruiting guys like that. Austin Collie was a high 4.5 to 4.6 40 guy yet he made 4.3 speed corners cry (Alterraun Verner CB from UCLA) because they couldn’t cover him. Jonny Harline was another who didn’t have a very impressive 40 time (high 4.7 to 4.8) yet couldn’t be covered by LB’s and safeties.

    Overall team speed has improved dramatically since the Lavell Edwards era where the emphasis was on size and power and physical play. Some position groups have been slower than others to catch on to this philosophy. WR is one group that is going through that makeover and now they are finding players who are both big, tall and fast. Hoffman is very similar to Jerry Rice where his 40 time isn’t impressive (4.6) but he surprises faster DB’s by his ability to create space between them and get open. Also Ross Apo is a faster more athletic version of Hoffman and has sub 4.5 speed which is exceptional for an athlete with his size and build.

    Our LB group has gotten a lot faster since Edwards days. All our LB’s then used to be hulking players weighing 245-250 lbs or more. Now they’re sleeker faster players weighing in the 220-230 range. We’ve sent quite a few of them to the NFL in the past decade including Bryan Kehl, Brady Poppinga, David Nixon (who was the 2nd fastest LB at his NFL combine with a 4.59 40, very fast for a LB), and Vic So’oto who was moved to DE but is a LB in the NFL (and he timed as one of the fastest DE’s at his NFL combine).

    Our secondary is faster than ever and we have a number of sub 4.5 players there including Preston Hadley and so is Jordan Johnson.

    Bronco is recruiting speed at every position. Adam Hine and Jamaal Williams are both very fast RB’s and will help improve the overall speed at that position which has suffered a bit. Drew Phillips was recruited to help with speed in that unit (4.3 speed) but he just didn’t work out and is now trying to get it together at a JC.

    Hopefully the embarrassment the OL group suffered when Terrence Brown lost all that weight, worked out and got stronger and more fitter and got himself an NFL FA contract showed them the importance of being more fit and in shape. Doman assures us this has been happening in the off season.

    BYU’s team speed isn’t as bad as Ute fans or you like to make it out to be. It’s not on par with elite BCS teams like LSU or Alabama, but then, neither is Utah or TCU. BYU’s problem vs Utah and TCU is mental.

    My point is, we are recruiting speed at every position. How slow did we look in 2009 vs Oklahoma? They had nearly 20 future NFL players on that team and 6 or more 1st round picks yet we matched them step for step, punch for punch. We didn’t look slow or play slow against them.

    I agree that BYU’s problem is mental. We don’t always approach games with the same attitude as they did in the OK game. In that game we were hungry and played like we had something to prove. (eye of the tiger).

    We don’t approach the rest of our games with that same mindset. We’re more conservative, buttoned down, and go into games with the mindset that all we need to do to win is show up and execute our game plan.

    Problem is that works for WAC teams, lower-tier MWC & Pac12 teams but it doesn’t work against our rivals and against big time ranked opponents. We need to swallow our pride and approach every opponent like we’re the under dog and have something to prove. Like we did vs OK.

    We played fast and aggressive against the Sooners and we can do that every game if coaches will change their approach.

  • WaybackCougar said:

    Time for the carping about Coach Omer to stop, guys. Check out Dick Harmon’s article, “BYU’s offensive linemen sporting leaner look” in the Deseret News (dated Friday Aug 3 in the online version).

    Bronco is way ahead of you. Sounds like the staff took note of the observations at last year’s combine and they ARE using Stroshine’s techniques this year. And the nutritionist they’re using was recommended by Stroshine. Now I can’t wait to find out if it makes a difference!

  • Walt Hanssen said:

    BigCougar & DavidL- OK time to make peace. We are all great Cougar fans so let’s bury the hatchets; I’ll start by saying despite what you two have said about the 40 time, it’s still one measurement of true straight ahead speed. I went our & checked out Rice and you were correct, he ran 4.71 at his NFL combine prior to starting his career. But, there were some keys to his success not necessarily in the order of importance:

    1. He trained harder during the off season than anyone else with the exception of Roger Craig so he got faster during his career and we will never know what his 40 time ended up being
    2. He gave 100% at every practice
    3. He ran perfect routes
    4. He had another gear after he caught a pass and I never saw anyone run him down saw he did have great top end speed
    5. He had two SB champion, MVP & Hall of Famers throwing to him, Montana & Young…to have one in your career would be great, but two…no way

    Speed- well maybe it isn’t one’s 40 time but you have to have speed somewhere on the field; off the line of scrimmage, out of the cuts or at the top end; do we all agree?

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