Five years ago, Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah had never seen American football. But Thursday night in New York, the BYU defensive end is expected to be a first-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).
How did the former soccer player from Ghana become such a hot prospect? ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer Ryan McGee tells Front Row how he profiled Ansah for the NFL Draft Issue.
Why did you choose to tell Ansah’s story using an “oral history” format instead of a traditional narrative?
In the same issue of ESPN The Magazine, I had already filed a lengthy narrative on South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, which I’d been reporting on for quite a while. Our decision to do the Ansah piece was relatively last minute, certainly compared to the Lattimore story. So this format was a nice contrast to that. Plus, there’s this kind of Paul Bunyan larger-than-life anecdotal feel whenever people talk about Ansah. This format was a nod to that.
How tough was it to get opponents to weigh in on Ansah?
At the time, as I gathered stories about him late last fall, it wasn’t hard. There’s a lot of respect there. Everyone seems to genuinely like the guy, even rivals. They love his story. But once this piece hit newsstands, at the same time that everyone is essentially competing for the best draft status, I think there was a little, ‘Wait…did I talk him up too much?’
How are you balancing your roles reporting on both NASCAR and college football?
This time of the year, it’s not too bad. But once we hit conference media days in July, from then until bowl season it’s like being that guy in the circus who keeps a dozen different plates spinning on the end of sticks. But I love it. And there’s a lot of crossover between the two fanbases. My heroes growing up were broadcasters like [ESPN analyst] Jerry Punch, Eli Gold, and Jack Arute, guys who got to crossover between racing and college football. Did you know [former ABC college football announcer] Keith Jackson called races too? No way am I or will I ever be in their league, but to have the opportunity to follow down the trail they blazed is an honor I will never take for granted.