BYU's Ezekiel Ansah: The next JPP?

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah has heard the comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul.

And the Ghanaian defensive end from BYU welcomes the challenge of becoming the next JPP. With only three years of football experience under his belt, Ansah, known as Ziggy, might have some teams drooling over his potential the way the Giants did when the freakishly raw Pierre-Paul came out in 2010.

Standing 6-foot-6, weighing 273 pounds and packed with athleticism and tantalizing 4.63 speed, Ansah has been likened to the Giants' Pro Bowl pass-rusher with good reason.

"That's good," Ansah said of the comparisons at the NFL scouting combine. "I've actually put in the time to watching his tapes and stuff."

Like Pierre-Paul, Ansah was discovered while playing basketball. According to Sports Illustrated, Ken Frei, a Mormon missionary, was playing basketball at a private grade school in Accra -- the capital of Ghana -- when he saw a 6-foot-6 teaching assistant grab a rebound before delivering a two-handed slam with "his elbows nearly hitting the rim."

By the fall of 2008, Ansah had enrolled in BYU hoping to play basketball on the advice of Frei. Ansah, though, was cut by the basketball team twice.

He opted to run track before trying out for football in 2010 despite the fact that he didn't know a thing about the sport.

"I never played the game so I didn't know much about it," said Ansah, who grew up playing soccer and loved basketball. "That's why I tried basketball the first two years."

"It was frustrating in the beginning," he added. "I wasn't treated like a starter. I wasn't treated like Ziggy hasn't played football at all. They were pushing me like I was playing football for 25 years. It was crazy. But it's been easier now."

Ansah joined the football team in 2010 hoping to be a tight end. He was a special-teams player until this past college football season. He started nine games and had 62 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one interception and 10 passes knocked down this past season for BYU and became a potential first-round pick. Scouts Inc. says Ansah has "enormous potential" to "play multiple positions in multiple schemes," citing the fact that he has played nose tackle, defensive tackle, defensive end and outside linebacker. Like Pierre-Paul, Ansah also might make an instant impact on special teams as well.

"Well, I hate to compare players, but he is a long, tall, big athlete," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said when asked to compare Ansah to Pierre-Paul. "Probably a little bit raw. But you want to coach those kind of guys. There are probably some similarities there."

Ansah likely increased his draft stock with his 4.63 40-yard dash time. He benched 21 reps, had a vertical of 34.5 and recorded a broad jump of 118 inches.

The New York Giants, who own the 19th pick in this year's draft, selected Pierre-Paul 15th overall in 2010 after the 6-foot-5 defensive end played just one season of major college football at South Florida. Prior to that, Pierre-Paul played at a community college and a junior college.

Like Ansah, Pierre-Paul was first noticed while dunking on a basketball court by the Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High School varsity football coach.

Now Pierre-Paul is a two-time Pro Bowler entering his fourth season with a career total of 27.5 sacks. Ansah would certainly love to follow in JPP's footsteps.

"In comparison to other people that are out there, I have been playing only a few years," Ansah said. "I still have a lot to do just to catch up to them. I'm gonna put everything I got to do my best."

Like Pierre-Paul when he came into the league, Ansah is like a sponge trying to soak in every bit of football knowledge. He is honest and delivers refreshingly candid answers.

When asked to describe his home of Accra to reporters at the scouting combine, Ansah replied, "I live in the capital of the city. Same education system. Go from kindergarten to grade 1 through grade 12.

"It's pretty much the same as here except it's all Africans, black folks, and all white people in Utah."

And while he says friends describe his personality as " 'Z' is calm. 'Z' is calm," Ansah is highly motivated to prove that he is more than just a diamond in the rough.

"I like the challenge a lot," he said about what he likes about football. "I know most of you are here to talk to me, but then again there's a lot of people who have doubts about me and that's what I love, I just want to prove you wrong."

At the combine, Ansah did plenty to prove what he can do. Everything but backflips, it seems.

When asked if he can do multiple backflips like Pierre-Paul can, Ansah answered as if he were ready to prove another doubter wrong.

"Not yet," Ansah said.