Ziggy Ansah made an impression on Lions coaches at last year's Senior Bowl. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Mobile, Ala. — BYU wide receiver Cody Hoffman remembers when an unknown, non-recruited player joined the Cougars for summer workouts in 2010.
“All of a sudden this big African dude just shows up out of nowhere and just starts doing the workouts with us,” Hoffman said. “And soon enough he was on the team, even getting reps.”
That “big African dude” was Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah, and based on what Hoffman and BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy recall, he knew nothing about how to play football, a sport he hadn’t played growing up in Ghana.
“It’s crazy,” Van Noy said. “He started taking blocks underhand and picking people up to move them out of the way, so we had to tell him to switch over his hands to take them upward instead of picking people up and scooping them, basically to use his power like a bench press.”
Once Ansah learned the technique, few could stop him on the field, especially at last year’s Senior Bowl, when he finished with seven tackles, 3.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble against some of the nation’s top college players.
Ansah’s performance in last year’s Senior Bowl — along with his 6-foot-5, 271-pound frame and 4.56-second 40-yard dash at the combine — helped convince the Lions to draft him fifth overall last year. Van Noy and Hoffman hope to similarly impress NFL teams in Mobile this week.
Van Noy was essentially Ziggy Light for the Cougars this season, a 6-foot-3, 244-pound outside linebacker, who, like Ansah, constantly made plays despite lining up in various positions. He’s rated by ESPN as the No. 7 outside linebacker and will likely be drafted in the first two rounds if he tests well at the combine.
When Ansah was a senior in 2012, he was the focus of many opponents, which freed Van Noy for 53 tackles, 22 for loss, 13 sacks, two interceptions and six forced fumbles. With Ansah gone last season, Van Noy said he regularly faced double teams, but still finished with 70 tackles, 17.5 for loss, four sacks and two interceptions.
The Lions could be in the market for a playmaking linebacker like Van Noy in the draft, especially with defensive coordinator Teryl Austin saying the team will add 3-4 looks to the 4-3 base. Van Noy declined to say which teams interviewed him this week, but he is excited at the possibility of joining Ansah in Detroit.
“It would be a dream come true to play with a brother, and see how hard he works and be able to work together again and hang out all the time,” Van Noy said.
Hoffman, meanwhile, said he had an interview scheduled with the Lions on Wednesday night. At 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, he has the size the Lions need in an outside receiver, but he’s projected as a mid- to late-round pick. Hoffman admits he isn’t the fastest receiver but compares his game to Anquan Boldin and Marques Colston, two guys who excel over the middle of the field.
And seeing Ansah’s success in the NFL — he led all rookies with eight sacks in 2013 — gives Hoffman confidence he and other BYU players can make it.
“It just gives hope to other guys coming from BYU that even though we aren’t an SEC school or an ACC school, we still have players and we can make it in the league,” he said.
As for Ansah’s future, Van Noy expects him to continue improving because he’s still learning the game.
“He’s just still on that stepping stone, and he’s going to become more physical,” he said. “He’s going to learn how to handle his big body and be physical and fast, so the sky’s the limit for him, and I see him being a future Pro Bowler in the NFL.”
Not bad for some “big African dude.”
“He was as raw as it comes,” Hoffman said. “I don’t even think he understood what football was. I think the coaches just talked to him and convinced him to play, and that was all she wrote.”