Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah was born in Ghana and raised in the port capital city of Accra. When he was younger, he learned of the LDS faith and heard about a college far, far away named BYU.
"The people who told me about BYU owned my elementary school,” said Ansah. “They said they were really happy with my schoolwork performance and they told me one day I should apply for BYU. I heard about BYU through them."
Going from Ghana to Utah was, and more than likely still is, a very big culture shock to say the least. Nevertheless, Ansah is adjusting to his new life in Provo and is loving the experience.
"I wouldn't say this is the best place to be if you want to have fun and party, because there isn't much to do, but if you know the purpose of which you are here you'll love it," said Ansah with a laugh. "BYU makes you a better person and I've really grown to love it here. It's a cool place. There aren't a lot of black people here and most everyone in white, and that was very different than how I grew up in Africa."
While in Ghana, Ansah joined the LDS faith. He was the only member of his family to do so, and wanted to be around others that shared his beliefs.
"I came because of the people here," he said. "I came because of the LDS surrounding. It's a lot different back home and I really like the people out here. They are nice people and a majority of everybody out here [participate in] no cussing. I tried to stay out of trouble and come out here, and it's definitely the right course."
In addition to the cultural adjustment Ansah has had to make after coming to America, he has had to also adjust to new academic standards.
"It's a lot different than Ghana and it's hard [academically],” said Ansah. “If you come to Ghana from America, people will think the education is easy and stuff, but to come from Africa to BYU is tough. You have to be wise and focused. There is nothing that is easy out here, but if you have the right mindset you'll get it right if you try hard."
Despite all the extra difficulty and hurdles Ansah faced as a foreigner at BYU, he decided to add to the challenge by taking up football. Having never even put on a helmet or shoulder pads before, his new challenges as a football player seemed daunting. In fact, his chances of ever seeing the field seemed about as far away as his home back in Ghana.
“I came here lost," Ansah humbly admitted. "I've really learned a lot and I learn every day. I would say that I've grown as a football player. It hasn't been easy, and no matter how good you are it's not easy, but I've learned a lot and it's been fun."
Ansah's growth and development have come slowly, but they have come. Despite having to learn a game he had never played before, he has been able to make progress, and he credits that to his position coach.
"I really love Coach Kaufusi," said Ansah in a reverent tone. "He always makes sure everything is good with me. He always checks in to see if I'm alright, and he always asks me, 'How are you doing Ziggy?' That really makes me happy. It really makes me happy if a coach tries to be really close to you like that."
Following Wednesday's practice, Coach Kaufusi walked with Ansah off the field. Walking side by side, the two were engaged in a conversation that appeared to be position-related. Ansah was all smiles as his mentor explained to him in a positive tone how to further improve.
"Since I'm new to football, he's trying to draw me closer and I love it," Ansah said about Kaufusi. "He's doing a great job at it. He's just making sure that I do what is right. He encourages me when I do what is right and he'll tell me when I'm doing something wrong. I really like that."
Last Saturday, BYU's contest against UNLV resulted in a lopsided win for the Cougars. During the fourth quarter, Coach Kaufusi turned to his young and inexperienced defensive end and asked Ansah if he was ready.
"It was interesting because, when Coach asked me if I would like to play in any game, I was like, ‘No, with the exception of special teams,’” said Ansah with a chuckle in his voice. "When I realized that I might be going out there, I was really nervous. That's the truth actually. I didn’t know what I was going to do, I was so nervous. Coach told me that he was going to put me on the outside at the end so I can just rush in because that's what I do best. So I thought, 'Yeah, I'll do it. I'll just rush in.'"
Before he went out onto the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium as a defender for the first time, Ansah received some support from a teammate.
"Vic [So'oto] came up to me and told me what to do," said Ansah. "He told me how the cut blocks were and stuff like that. After he talked to me on the sidelines I was like, 'Alright, I got this now.'"
At some point after coming into the game, number 74 lined up on the outside and rushed around the Rebel end as fast as he could. UNLV’s quarterback dropped back as the Cougar blitz came fast from the right side, ending in a sack that Ansah just missed being a part of.
"I came around the end and I was really close," Ansah said. "I didn't make the sack, but I was like right there. Even if he was able to get through the rest of them all, I was right there in front of him. I'm happy and pleased I got close to him, and that's what my goal was, and I almost got a sack. I just have to keep working hard and everything is going to work out good.
"Yeah, it was pretty neat. I'm on special teams and it's just run down and try to make a tackle. When you go in on defense it's different. Now you have a play and you have to stay in, try and stop them from getting the first down and use your technique and trust. So I was really excited, but I was really nervous too to go in. I was really happy we won the game."
When Ansah came off the field, he was met with a big reception.
"I think I did okay because the coaches were really excited about me," he said with a big smile on his face. "The coaches were really happy and excited about me. Everybody was just like, 'Good job Ezekiel.' I was really happy to hear them say that and this is just the beginning."
The season is winding down and there are just three games left on the schedule in the regular season. The Cougars are getting ready to face their next opponent, Colorado State, in hopes that after a rocky start the team can still reach their goal of playing in a bowl game. The question is whether or not the game will provide another opportunity for Ansah to get in on defense.
"Well, I don't know. I'm going to leave that to the coaches to decide," said Ansah while laughing. "If the coaches tell me to go inside, I will go. I do want to play, but I will leave that up to them to decide."
If Ansah never sees the field on defense again for the rest of the season, he can always look back and say he almost got a sack in the one series he saw action in. And although his parents are still in Ghana, they'll hear about it soon.
"They don't have the channel to see me and I haven't called them yet, but I will soon,” said Ansah. “I think they will be proud of me back home."