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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ezekiel Ansah Is Becoming A Monstah

Two years ago Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah didn’t even know how to put on football pads. Now, he is popping pads like a pro.

Ansah came to BYU in 2008 from Accra, Ghana, with hopes of being a track star. Despite being a complete novice to the game, his 6-foot-6, 270 pound frame and sprinter speed earned him a spot on the team as a project player at linebacker and on the defensive line. It also helped that team leaders liked his attitude and told the coaches they wanted him on the team.

Once word about Ansah got out, it was impossible for fans not to conjure up in their imaginations that one day he would be an one-man wrecking crew on defense. A guy with his combination of size and speed would create all sorts of mismatches for opposing offenses. It turns out, fans weren’t the only ones drooling over Ansah’s possibilities.

Ansah was limited mostly to special teams play as a sophomore in 2010, but as the 2011 season approached, his position coach Kelly Poppinga gushed that Ansah could, easily, be an NFL player. As the 2011 season unfolded, Ansah didn’t play a major role on the Cougar defense.

With just one year of eligibility left, and the hype still unfulfilled, Ansah’s story didn’t appear that it was going to have a fairy tale ending. It didn’t help that depth on the BYU defensive line and linebacking corps was getting better and better. A ray of light shown, however, after spring practices earlier this year.

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has been known for downplaying the potential of really good players. In interviews he has been prone to point out their weaknesses and curtail any complimentary comment. When Mendenhall jumped on the “Ansah has NFL potential” train at the end of spring camp, it was a clear sign that Ansah’s role would be different in 2012.

Ansah still plays on special teams, but that didn’t stop him from making the first big defensive play for BYU in the 2012 season.

On its first possession of the game, Washington State was steadily moving the ball down field. The red Cougars had reached the blue Cougars’ 18-yard line. On 2nd and 6, Washington State threw a screen pass to a running back. Ansah had sniffed it out, and was there to make the tackle, but it was no normal tackle.

Ansah showed of his super strength and speed. He had slightly overrun the play, so when he collided with the ball carrier, his feet were way out in front of his body. Rather than hold onto the ball carrier and bring him down with him as he fell to his back, Ansah defied the laws of physics. He dug his heels in, stood himself back up, turned the ball carrier around, and slammed him to the ground.  

The play was a five-yard loss.

Ansah finished the season opener with a career high in tackles (3), and tackles for loss (2). He also had one pass break up.

Ansah continued to contribute in the next two games with six tackles. Solid, and definitely more active than his first two seasons, but nothing spectacular, yet. Then came game four against Boise State.

Against the Broncos in Boise, Ansah played like a "monstah." He made his presence felt several times.

With two minutes to play in the first quarter, Boise State dialed up one of their specialties: a fake punt. All the Broncos needed was two yards. The snap went to the upback. He was stopped cold at the line of scrimmage by big no. 47.

Had that been the only tackle Ansah made, he still would have had an impact on the game. Unfortunately for Boise State, Ansah was just getting warmed up.  

The Boise State offensive line had not allowed a single sack all season. That ended with 3:22 to play in the first half when Ansah took down the Broncos’ quarterback for a 5-yard loss.

In the middle of the third quarter, Boise State was starting to pull away from BYU. Three straight turnovers by BYU had given Boise State a 7-0 lead, and put the Broncos in a position to really put the hammer down on BYU with a touchdown following Michael Alisa’s fumble at the 1-yard line. Ansah was the answer for BYU’s turnover woes.

That is when Ziggy went beast mode on Boise State. On first down he got into the back field and tackled the ball carrier for a one-yard loss. On second down he did it again, this time with the help of Brandon Ogletree.

By this point, Boise State had learned its lesson, and ran away from Ansah on third and fourth downs. It was too late, however, Ansah’s clutch plays had given the momentum back to BYU and the Broncos turned the ball over to the Cougars without scoring a single point.

Although BYU came up short on the score board, Ansah played the game of his life. He displayed the skills that his coaches had seen in practice that made them utter “Ansah” and “NFL” in the same breath. He had a career high 8 tackles (6 solo), 1 sack, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1 pass break up. All of these stats were team highs.

On the year, Ansah has just as many tackles as Kyle Van Noy (17, seventh highest on team), and an equal number of tackles for loss as Spencer Hadley (5, second highest on team).

With an unfortunate injury to defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna, Ansah is sure to see his playing time rise. Of course, the way Ansah played like a “monstah” at Boise, he would have seen the field more, regardless.

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com

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