The Cinderella story that is Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah has reached another zenith: Ansah was selected as the fifth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and will play for the Detroit Lions.
Ansah, the Ghanaian native who knew nothing of the sport just three years ago, was selected by the Lions at Thursday’s draft. Ansah’s story of coming to know and love the game of football — and his subsequent defensive domination of the sport — has been an oft-told story throughout the NFL.
“I think this is fantastic for Ziggy and our program,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said in a written statement. “Our defense was No. 3 in the nation, and Ziggy was a big part of that. It was a real honor for me to be part of this experience for Ziggy at the draft and over the past three years. To go from not playing football to a Top-5 pick in three years is a tribute to Ziggy and his willingness to work hard and also to our program.”
Draft rumors predicted Ansah would be picked somewhere in the Top 10, and those predictions did not disappoint as the Lions grabbed him off the board as the second defensive player taken in the draft.
The Lions desperately need defensive prowess, having finished 27th in the league in points allowed, with 437. The Lions play in the NFC North division, which is, arguably, the toughest division in the league. It includes two playoff teams — and offensive powerhouses — from the 2012 season. The Lions face a defensive slaughter from the Green Bay Packers’ passing attack, as well as the Minnesota Vikings’ running game. Their tough competition in the league also includes the Chicago Bears, who finished 10–6 and barely missed the playoffs. Detroit was the only team that finished with a losing record, at 4–12, but they made the playoffs in 2011.
The Lions have the offensive game to challenge reigning NFL supremacy, as quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards each of the last two seasons, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s all-time receiving record last season. But their defense was their downfall, as the Lions fell to 4–12 on the year.
“Ziggy is a phenomenal person, and I think the Detroit fans will love him,” Mendenhall said. “They will see a very unique personality. He is a very kind, gentle and obedient person off the field, but when he plays he is ferocious and plays very, very hard.”
Ansah’s addition comes at an opportune time: Detroit lost both of its starting defensive ends from last season, as Cliff Avril was dealt to Seattle and Kyle Vanden Bosch was released from the team. It is likely, then, that Ansah could step into a starting position when the season kicks off in September.
“I’m just happy I’ve come this far,” Ansah said. “This journey has just begun. I’m excited — I give credit to everybody. I give credit to Bronco Mendenhall for pushing me during practice and teaching me how to be a football player. I give credit to my fans back at BYU and to my teammates.”