ALLEN PARK, Michigan (AP) — Ziggy Ansah was born and raised in Ghana, playing soccer and shooting hoops without ever seeing a snap of American football, yet found himself one of the hottest properties at Thursday's NFL draft.
When he moved to the United States in 2008, some missionaries suggested he attend Brigham Young University and try out for the basketball team. He fell short there, but was willing to listen again when friends persuaded him to play football for the first time in 2010.
It paid off richly when he was drafted at pick No.5 by the Detroit Lions.
"It's been a humbling experience," Ansah said with a thick accent on a conference call with Detroit-area reporters. "A crazy journey."
The actuarial science major, the youngest of five children, speaks two Ghanaian dialects and hopes his unique path inspires an entire continent.
"One thing I want to do is just to be an ambassador with the NFL and bring the game back to Ghana because I know that there are little kids back home that are going to be pretty good at this game," Ansah said. "I can try to introduce the game to the people in Africa."
Detroit desperately needed an offensive tackle, but three were drafted within the first four picks, so instead they chose to fill a gap at defensive end.
"He's the best player available," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. "And he fills a need. This was an opportunity where the grade matched up with the need and it worked out great for us."
Detroit didn't re-sign defensive end Cliff Avril, who joined Seattle in free agency, and cut its other starting defensive end, Kyle Vanden Bosch, so Ansah has a shot at being a starter immediately.
The Lions' poor 2012 season put them in a position to coach a team at the Senior Bowl, a postseason college game for two all-star selections of college seniors. It was at that game that the Lions got a chance to assess Ansah up close.
"We had the opportunity to work with him and teach him and we saw the way that he could learn, how quickly he picks things up and we saw the impact that he had in the game so we felt very comfortable with him," Mayhew said.
In track at BYU, he ran the 200-meter dash in less than 22 seconds and had a sub-11-second 100-meter dash.
"Phenomenal, phenomenal athlete," Mayhew said.
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