INDIANAPOLIS - BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah passes the eye test at 6-feet-5, 274 pounds. Looks count for a lot at the Scouting Combine, but Ansah isn't afraid to say he's a virtual neophyte embracing a relatively fresh wave of buzz that he could be a first-round draft pick.
He never watched football or played the game until he arrived in Provo, Utah, where he said the differences from his native Africa are too many to name and the sports of preference were soccer and basketball. Ansah played both games since he was three years old. Football was a bit of a foreign concept until just four years ago.
"Before getting to BYU?" Ansah asked about his exposure to the American game. "Zero."
A Mormon whose father is a retired salesman for Shell petroleum and whose mother is a nurse, he came to BYU hoping to run track. When the coach that led him to BYU left to Southern Methodist, Ansah decided to give basketball a try but after two years, gave up on that goal.
"I was really athletic and didn't just want to sit around and go to school," Ansah said. "I never thought of playing football because I didn't play the game. I tried basketball for two years and it didn't work out."
He said if he would have made the basketball team he would have never picked up football.
"I don't know why I didn't make it," he said.
Ansah attended Cougars home football games when he got to campus. He said he immediately fell in love with the game.
Grasping the concepts and technique to excel at the NFL level is a continuous work in progress. Ansah played two years at outside linebacker and moved to defensive end last season. Because of his raw athleticism, Ansah is compared to Giants 2011 first-round pick Jason Pierre-Paul. Ansah takes that comparison as a serious compliment.
"I put in the time to watch him, study his style of play," Ansah said.
His initial preference was to play tight end because of his size and fundamentals - how to take on a running back's chip block and tackling in the open field - but coaches liked his skill set on defense. At the Senior Bowl, he showed scouts the ability to play defensive end and outside linebacker.
"To see him go in and improve every day in practice, have the game he had -- a very productive game -- he's obviously a guy that is talented physically," said Detroit Lions' head coach Jim Schwartz, whose staff coached Ansah's team at the Senior Bowl. "I think he went a long way to answering questions about his background and his aptitude in a setting like the Senior Bowl."
Schwartz and the Lions draft fifth overall in April and have a hole in the roster at defensive end unless they can retain free agent Cliff Avril. Schwartz said to label Ansah as "raw" would be a misnomer.
"I think the most important thing in football, and in scouting, is how they play, and he played well in the game," said Schwartz. "It's important what you run in a 40 time, it's important how many times you can bench 225 (pounds). But the thing that is most important, and you can't lose sight of, is what the game tape looks like. He's put down some good tape."