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Ziggy, Star meet their new NFL teams

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - Ziggy Ansah and Star Lotulelei are introduced to their new NFL teams, the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - BYU's Ziggy Ansah and Utah's Star Lotulelei both made headlines in the first round of the NFL Draft. Now, they are ready to produce for their respective teams.

A few hours before the Lions made him the No. 5 pick in the NFL draft, on the same day his BYU classmates were going through commencement, Ansah held a private graduation ceremony in his New York City hotel room for his mother, cousins and a few close friends.

Ansah, who left Ghana in 2008 and stumbled into football two years later, graduated with a degree in actuarial science.

“It’s basically insurance,” Ansah said Friday during his introductory news conference at the Lions’ Allen Park headquarters. “Calculating risk, just like telling people what amount of insurance they got to pay to what age they are going to die. It’s crazy.”

Ironic, too, that the draft’s most prominent boom-or-bust player is into calculating risk, though he wouldn’t assess how much of one the Lions took by selecting him over more polished prospects like cornerback Dee Milliner and guard Jonathan Cooper in the first round.

“I already did the calculation and it’s personal, sorry,” Ansah joked.

Ansah played three seasons of football at BYU but only started for part of one year, his senior season after nose guard Eathyn Manumaleuna injured his knee.

He finished his career with 41/2 sacks, all last year, in 31 games.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said in a teleconference Friday that Ansah is less of a risk than people think, and he pointed to the fact that Ansah played all over BYU’s defense last year as proof of his quick learning curve.

“The potential is unlimited,” Mendenhall said. “He’s fast enough, he’s quick enough, he’s strong enough, he’s a hard enough worker, he retains information well enough, he’s consistent enough both on and off the field that there’s really no downside.

“He’s made the fastest ascent that I’ve ever heard of or seen or even believed was possible in going from not having played the game to being a first-round draft pick. And to me there’s zero reason why he can’t do that, go from a first-round pick to whatever level they would like him to perform at in a very similar timeframe if not shorter.”

At his news conference Friday, Ansah made a favorable first impression with a quick wit, a dry sense of humor and the ability to have fun with himself.

When a reporter asked what happened to the 3D glasses he donned during Thursday’s first round, Ansah said, “I have them right here.”

He stepped to a side table and returned with a new pair of black frames with faux lenses that SVS Vision sent to the Lions early Friday as a welcome gift.

“Is this an upgrade?” he said to laughter. “This is Detroit welcoming me here.”

Ansah and his family are still getting used to the bright lights of the NFL and the world he’s entering.

His mother, Elizabeth Cole, who flew to New York from Ghana earlier this week for the draft, understandably has little grasp of football or the NFL.

“She did grasp enough to understand that being surrounded by people that he could trust was going to be paramount, but she has no idea,” Mendenhall said. “As I was trying to explain the draft and how many teams there were, she even asked at one point, ‘Can he be drafted by the team in Utah?’

“I explained we don’t have a professional team in Utah and she started to ask why. Just her understanding of the NFL, the opportunities, and then what is going to be at stake and what the lifestyle is like and the opportunities that he’s going to have, none of us, myself included, have a complete grasp of yet, but especially when they’re further removed.”

Ansah, who has seen his mother only twice since he’s been at BYU, said even he’s not sure what to expect in the weeks and years ahead.

“I know this is fairly new for her and it’s a lot for her, but what I can say to you is that she’s really proud of me,” he said. “I’m just happy to have come this far. This journey just begun, right?”

Lotulelei was drafted 14th overall by the Carolina Panthers, making him the 4th highest drafted Ute ever. He joins fellow Utah graduates Steve Smith and Jordan Gross in Carolina.

Lotulelei was a big-time star at Utah, but knows he is going to have to improve his game at the next level.

"I just need to find a better variety of moves," Lotulelei said at his introductory press conference. "I know I have the explosiveness. I know I can get up field, but I need to improve on my moves. I'm just so excited to get going and improve on my skills and become a better football player."

Expected to become an immediate starter on the Panthers defensive line, one of Lotulelei's biggest criticisms is that he doesn't go 100 percent on every play. He refuted that critique today.

"I give everything that I have ever play," he said. "Sometimes it may come off as taking a play off, but I don't feel that way. But it's definitely something that I think I can improve on, to continually get that motor going. If I do fix it, it will help me a lot at this level."

At 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, Lotulelei has tremendous size and power. He is known for being able to stop the run, something the Panthers need. Carolina finished 14th against the run at just over 110 yards per game.

For now, Lotulelei is just enjoying his first days as an NFL player.

"Seeing the stadium was awesome," Lotulelei said. "Seeing the facilities was great. It's where I'm going to be spending a lot my time once we get the ball rolling."



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