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In late October 2010, BYU was beating Wyoming 16--10 when coach Bronco Mendenhall decided to conduct an experiment on the opening kickoff of the third quarter. So Ezekiel Ansah trotted onto a field during a football game for the first time in his life. "It was scary," Ansah says. "I was trying to remember what I had been told, but it wasn't easy, especially with a lot of people screaming and yelling."
It should have been easy, because his instructions were simple: "We put him right in the middle of the field and said, 'Whoever catches the ball, run right to that guy,'" recalls Mendenhall. When the ball was kicked, Ansah did as he was told, but he didn't tackle the return man. Still, as he jogged back to the sideline his teammates and coaches mobbed him, shouting Zig-gy! while they smacked his helmet and slapped his butt. Without even realizing it, Ansah had taken out a trio of Wyoming blockers. He'd simply run through them.
"What?" he said.
"You just blew up three guys," players yelled. Ziggy shrugged.
The next day Mendenhall watched the game film with one thought running through his head: We have to find more ways to get Ansah on the field. "Ziggy was not only knocking down players, he was 10 yards in front of anyone else on our team," Mendenhall says. "This is a guy I never took seriously, and now we've had more NFL personnel in our facility this year than in my previous eight years put together."
"When the combines come," said one NFL scout who has been following Ansah since the beginning of the season, "Ziggy will be one of those players where people will be saying, Who in the hell is this guy?"
KEN FREI spent six days a week walking the dusty roads of Ghana's capital city, Accra, in search of people interested in learning about Mormonism. On his off days the 20-year-old BYU sophomore from Idaho Falls played pickup basketball with fellow missionaries at a private K-through-12 school called Golden Sunbeam. It had one of the few courts in the city, and the headmaster—a Mormon—allowed the missionaries to play there.
Frei often noticed Ansah, then an 18-year-old teaching assistant. One afternoon in December 2007, Frei invited him to join in a game of two-on-two. A 5'9" former high school point guard, Frei matched up against the big local. Though he gave up nine inches and nearly 100 pounds, Frei wasn't concerned; Ghanaians aren't known for their hoops prowess.
As if to prove the point, Ansah got the ball and flung up a wild shot that slammed off the glass. Frei expected as much, but he did not anticipate what happened next: Ansah elevated, snatched the rebound and threw down a two-handed dunk, his elbows nearly hitting the rim. Frei was speechless. Ansah grinned. "LeBron James is my favorite," he said, before adding, "One day I hope to play in the league."
Frei and Ansah bonded over their love of basketball, and Frei learned about Ziggy's life. The youngest of five children, Ansah had been raised in a crowded, working-class neighborhood of Accra. His father, Edward, was a sales manager for a petroleum company, and his mother, Elizabeth, was a nurse.