Ziggy's teenage years revolved around school, sports and religion. He ran track and played soccer, and to stay in shape he ran two to three miles through the busy streets each morning before school. At night he'd spend hours on a basketball court with his older brother practicing "LeBron" moves. Like most Accra families, the Ansahs didn't have cable TV, but a friend did, and Ziggy would go there whenever the Cavaliers were on.
Despite being raised as what he calls a "casual Anglican," Ansah started attending Charismatic Church, an all-black congregation with a passionate minister, soulful music and a rollicking atmosphere. He was devout, and religion became a regular topic of conversation between Frei and Ansah, who was already familiar with Mormon belief from working at the school. The pair spent hours discussing the Book of Mormon, and within six weeks, despite strong opposition from his family, Ziggy decided to convert.
He asked Frei to baptize him. Mormons practice baptism by immersion, so Frei wasn't quite sure how to proceed. "He is much bigger than me," Frei wrote in his journal hours after the rite. "It was hard to get him under the water. He almost pulled me under. I managed to hang on." Shortly after Frei completed his mission and returned to BYU, but not before giving his new friend some advice. "I told Ziggy that if he was serious about playing basketball, he should come to BYU and try out for the team," Frei says.
Ansah went to the headmaster at Golden Sunbeam, who had put two sons through BYU. With the headmaster's help, Ziggy gained admission. A couple of weeks before the start of the fall semester in 2008, Frei received an unexpected call: Ansah had just landed in Utah, and he needed a roommate.
The white things got to him. The temperature in Ghana lingers in the 70s and 80s throughout the year, so Ziggy had never seen snow. He didn't like it. He'd never experienced anything to prepare him for 20º; he froze. He didn't like those white boxes with the buttons on the front, either. "Back home, whenever we wanted food we went to the market," Ansah says. "We didn't do any microwave stuff. We cooked everything fresh. No chicken that had been in a freezer for months. Here I had to get used to eating junk, nasty burgers and stuff."
The biggest adjustment was all the white people. In Ghana, Ziggy encountered only the occasional Caucasian, but Provo, a city of 120,000, is less than 1% black. "At first I couldn't handle it," he says. "Whenever I'd see a black person I'd say hi to them, because it might be the only black person I'd see that day."
That fall Frei told Ansah he should consider playing football, and he took Ziggy to his first Cougars game. "I didn't know what was going on," Ansah says. "I was cheering when everyone else was cheering, but I didn't know why." He also thought the game way too violent. "It was intense—everybody hitting each other," Ziggy says. "I said to my roommates, 'I don't think I ever want to do that.'"
Instead, Ansah tried walking on to the basketball team. Despite his 39-inch vertical, ferocious dunks and study of LeBron, he didn't make it. The next fall he tried again. He got cut again. Still, he was having some success: For the second year in a row Ziggy tore up BYU's intramural league. During a few of those games some football players were impressed by his size and physicality. They told him he should try out for the team. He thought they were crazy.
That spring Ansah walked on to the track team, and he ran a best of 21.9 seconds in the 200. (The last-place finisher in the final of the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Championships ran 20.9.) Leonard Myles-Mills, a former BYU runner and now an assistant track coach who is also from Ghana, had never seen someone so big run so fast. But when the season ended, he called Ziggy aside. He had some advice: Try out for the football team.
Mendenhall sat in his office a few days before the start of 2010 summer camp. He knew a potential walk-on was scheduled to stop by, but he wasn't expecting much. Track athletes rarely panned out. Even at the skill positions, football requires much more than just speed. And the kid was from Africa—soccer country.