The Next Zig Thing

Is a Ghanaian soccer player who dreamed of NBA glory about to conquer the NFL draft?

He grew up playing soccer in his home country of Ghana and successfully walked on to the BYU track team, but Ezekiel (Ziggy) Ansah’s future in professional sports could lie in being a first-round pick in the next NFL draft, writes Jeff Benedict. He was recruited to BYU by a sophomore serving his Mormon mission in Ghana in 2007, who played pickup basketball with Ansah and thought the Ghanaian’s 6′ 6″ 250-pound frame would lend itself to football. Ansah walked on to the Cougars’ team in 2010, and over the final nine games of the 2012 season, was third on his team in tackles (48), second in sacks (4.5) and first in tackles for loss (13).

While he’s not a star in the sport he grew up dreaming about – basketball – Ansah is drawing serious interests from NFL scouts, who are flocking to BYU to check him out. Says one scout: “The combination of his height, weight and speed is probably unmatched. Plus, he’s so strong. He’s got that Jason Pierre-Paul type of physical upside” (page 46).

The Jimmer Plays Pretty Good – iPad Extras of the Week

Jimmer Fredette— and it’s only a matter of time before Jimmer, or perhaps the Jimmer will suffice—evokes so many different personas, that of the folk hero, the cartoon superhero and I’ll throw this in, well, because it’d make for a great headline (“The Jimmer Plays Pretty Good!”) Watch the BYU sharpshooter and it doesn’t take long before you get that middle-distance stare and start humming “One Shining Moment”—or the preferred Fredette track.  It’s Maravichian, for those who remember that phenom.  And if you don’t, here’s your primer.

Football gets the cover in this week’s issue, the two Super Bowl teams expertly broken down by Peter King and Tim Layden, but the soul of the issue is the Jimmer.  It’s impossible not to be swept up in Jimmermania, and Kelli Anderson helps us better understand why a player with the projected career arc of NBA journeyman captivates us as much as such recent lottery tickets as Durant and Wall and Griffin.  Even better, Kelli takes you even further into the story in the podcast she taped with Richard Deitsch this week.  With the Jimmer, you want pictures too and we’ve put together a YouTube compendium of his sublime game.

Also, on the must-list this week is Scott Price’s narrative on Aliquippa, Pa., which like so many other Rust Belt towns, turns to a rich football tradition as a balm for economic decline and social ills. The Western Pennsylvania mill town has delivered to the NFL, among others, Ditka, Dorsett, Revis and Sean Gilbert, whose pithy 1989 remark (“We represent the struggle.  The pain.  The oppression.  We represent the fight. This is Aliquippa”) sets the tone for Price’s moving, masterfully crafted piece, which is complemented by an SI original video.

Next week, we promise plenty of Super Bowl goodies that tap into the best of the Big Game and SI itself. The week after: Swimsuit 2011.

- Chris Stone


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