LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions drafted defensive end Ziggy Ansah with the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, counting on a prospect who had to be persuaded to try football three years ago.
“He’s the best player available,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. “And, he fills a need.”
Detroit didn’t re-sign defensive end Cliff Avril, who joined Seattle in free agency, and cut its other starting defensive end, Kyle Vanden Bosch, from last year’s 4-12 team.
The Lions’ poor season put them in a position to coach a team at the Senior Bowl and they took advantage, getting to know an intriguing player up close for a week on and off the field.
“That week at the Senior Bowl really helped us,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said.
Ansah, whose first name is Ezekiel, grew up in Ghana playing soccer and pickup hoops. He moved to the United States, getting an academic scholarship at BYU, and twice tried to make for the basketball team at BYU and was a walk-on in track.
He joined the football program three years ago — when he didn’t know how to put on shoulder pads — and slowly turned himself into a player expected to be among the first chosen in the NFL draft.
“It’s just an amazing story,” Mayhew said.
Now, the 6-foot-5, 271-pound Ansah has got a great shot to start on an NFL team.
“We didn’t draft him to be a project,” Schwartz said.
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