MIKE O'HARA

Ziggy Ansah embraced by fans and current, former Lions

Posted Apr 28, 2013

He hasn’t strapped on a helmet or laced up a pair of cleats yet, but Ansah has been welcomed to the inner sanctum reserved for players by current stars and great alums

Ziggy AnsahDE Ziggy Ansah (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)
It started good for Ziggy Ansah and got better – from the moment Barry Sanders introduced him as the Lions’ first-round draft choice Thursday night to the cheers that greeted his appearance at Ford Field Friday evening less than 24 hours later.

Ansah has been flying high on a red magic carpet in his early days as a member of the Lions.

He hasn’t strapped on a helmet or laced up a pair of cleats yet, but Ansah has been welcomed to the inner sanctum reserved for players by current stars and great alums, and also by the fans.

On draft night Thursday, he left the podium after Sanders announced him as the Lions’ pick and did an interview with Herman Moore, a teammate of Sanders and one of the NFL’s dominant wide receivers of the 1990s. Moore was the first player to have three straight seasons of at least 100 catches, and he was first-team All-Pro four straight years.

On Friday, he crossed paths at Metro Airport with Calvin Johnson, the NFL’s top receiver and the man who set the single-season record for receiving yards last year with 1,964, breaking the mark formerly held by the incomparable Jerry Rice.

There was a text message and phone call from Ndamukong Suh, who’ll be his teammate on the Lions’ defensive line.

Later Thursday, he was hosted at dinner in a suite at Ford Field by Hall of Fame cornerback Lem Barney.

And when Ansah walked through the tunnel to be introduced to the fans in a gameday atmosphere, he was greeted by a huge ovation from a few thousand fans who turned out for the event.

“I love these fans already,” Ansah said loudly, stopping to do a TV interview.

It’s heady stuff for any athlete, and all the more for a young man from Ghana who grew up playing basketball and did not turn to football until 2010, when he failed to make the varsity basketball team for the second straight year.

“It’s crazy,” Ansah said of the greeting he has received. “I don’t even know how to put it into words. Just meeting Barry Sanders, then Megatron. It’s reality now.”

He was asked if he knew the story behind Johnson getting the nickname Megatron, from the comic book action hero.

“I don’t know the full story,” he said, “but I’ll find out.”

One man’s opinion – having the Lions’ old guard welcome the new is a feel-good moment for all involved.

Ansah’s career path in football is ahead of him. The Lions hope it’s a long path, and that it leads to the quarterback.

The practices and games will come, but Ansah’s beginning as a Lion is about the way he was welcomed to Detroit, and the interest people have in his background.

Ghana is a country of about 24 million, on the west coast of Africa. He grew up in the Adenta neighborhood of Accra, Ghana’s capital city. Population is 2.2 million.

His given name is Ezekiel, and he got the nickname “Ziggy” when he was playing high school basketball in Ghana. When the players’ names were being put on the back of the jerseys, some teammates suggested “Ziggy.” It stuck.

He became a member of the Mormon church in Ghana at the age of 18 and was encouraged to attend Brigham Young and pursue his interest in basketball. He went to BYU on an academic scholarship and was cut from the basketball team twice before turning to football in 2010.

His football story is short – with a meteoric rise.

He had never seen American football before attending a Brigham Young game as a student. When he tried out for football, he was so green that teammates had to show him how to put on all the pads.

After two seasons as primarily a reserve, Ansah became a full-time starter in 2012. He attracted the attention of scouts because of his size – 6-5, 271 pounds – and extreme athleticism. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds this year.

His athleticism and potential made him one of the top-rated defensive ends in this year’s draft, and, ultimately, a first-round pick by the Lions.

English is Ghana’s official language, and Ansah speaks it with a pronounced accent. He also speaks Twi and Fanta, the two dialects of Akan.

In any language, he is clever with a dry wit.

He was asked Thursday about the kind of questions he got at Brigham Young from classmates wanting to know about life in Africa.

“They ask me if there are lions in the backyard,” he said.

His answer to them: the only lions he saw were “in the San Diego zoo.”

Getting drafted by the Lions made news in Ghana. Ansah has not been back to Ghana since he left for the U.S. to attend Brigham Young. A story on GhanaWeb included this: “when he visits he will return as a super star.”

“I haven’t heard about it,” he said, “but my phone was blowing up with text messages from all my friends from back home.”

At Ford Field, he was given the star treatment. He was with a group that included his mother, Elizabeth Cole, and other relatives. He signed pictures, programs, caps, jerseys – anything put in front of him by fans seeking an autograph.

DuSha Montgomery of Redford attended with her son, Jurmaine Power.

Montgomery said she is considering buy season tickets.

“I was just excited to be here,” she said. “I was excited last season – and the season before that.”