When BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall met NFL Draft pick Ziggy Ansah's mother, Elizabeth Cole, on Thursday for the first time, he had some explaining to do.
Mendenhall held a teleconference with reporters on Friday morning from New York, and took a question from yours truly about whether Ziggy's mother understands how big of a deal her son has become in this country.
Mendenhall said that Ansah's mother asked him last night why her son couldn't be drafted by the NFL team in Utah.
"I explained that we don't have an [NFL] team in Utah, and then she started to ask why. Just her understanding of the NFL, and the opportunities, and what is going to be at stake, and what the lifestyle is like, and the opportunity that he is going to have [she is trying to grasp]," Mendenhall said. "None of that, myself included, could anyone have a complete grasp of yet, especially when they are further removed.
And so again she was so thankful for the opportunity he had to graduate from college. That was first.
The second thing was to make sure he was surrounded by the right people.
And the third was this opportunity to play football. That was kind of how I saw it."
Mendenhall said the entire experience in New York was "overwhelming" for Ansah's mother and a couple cousins who also made the trip.
"Again, she did grasp enough to understand that being surrounded by people he can trust was going to be paramount. But she has no idea, as I was trying to explain the draft, and how many teams there were."
If you haven't already, be sure to check out The Tribune's coverage of draft night. Here's our primary story on the Lions picking Ansah fifth overall and the Carolina Panthers picking Utah's Star Lotulelei 13th.
Gordon Monson weighed in on the historic night for Utah college football, and Kurt Kragthorpe reminisces on when he first heard Ansah's name.
Mendenhall went about 20 minutes on his teleconference, and a lot of the stuff is already familiar to BYU fans who have followed Ansah's story the last few years.
Here are a few comments and/or odds and ends from the chat:
Mendenhall on his recollection of how Ziggy got his nickname:
"I don't know how he got that nickname. I just started calling him that because the players were calling him that. And it was shorter than saying Ezekiel. ..... Any great nicknames, Vic So'oto seems to be tied to it at some point, so I would lean that way."
His overall thoughts on how the night went for Ziggy:
"Ziggy is and was the compelling story of the night. He was spending two or three times the amount of time with all the interviewers and every possible media outlet in New York City. He was exhausted by the time night was over, but it has been well-earned."
On him being off to Detroit:
"It is kind of sad for me to see him go. The reality now is that he is moving on."
Mendenhall told the story about waiting in the Green Room with Ziggy and his family members, and how he suggested a game involving the M&Ms that the NFL provided. Each person guessed which number Ziggy would be taken at by using the M&Ms, after they sifted out the red ones and used only blue and white ones.
Ziggy had himself at No. 1, his cousin had him at No. 3 and Bronco had him at No. 5, which is where he went.
"We have had these kind of moments before where he knew he should have listened, but didn't," Mendenhall joked. "This was one of those moments where he should have."
Mendenhall on the graduation ceremony in the hotel room:
"My hope is for all those kids that were backstage that they have a similar experience, that they focus hard on their schoolwork ... they get their education as well. ...I visited with Ziggy before I left town, and he said he had one more final to take. I could tell that he was really happy, and I think he was proud of himself, for the way he has been able to manage it all."
On Ziggy's mom's feeling about him graduating:
"That particular event had as much importance to her, or more, than anything else. Now, her focus is that he surrounds himself with quality people that he can trust, and build great relationships with. I share a similar sentiment."
On Detroit's plans to use him as a wide rusher:
"That really utilizes all of his strengths. He is very quick off the ball. He has long levers. I really think he can become a master of his craft in terms of becoming a true technician."
On whether Ziggy would have got this kind of opportunity if Eathyn Manumaleuna hadn't gotten hurt:
"Hard to say. He might have been used even more diversely, because we might have used him at outside linebacker in some situations. But the volume of plays he was allowed to make ... would have gone down. And so, if Eathyn hadn't gone down, maybe Ziggy wouldn't be in the position he is in today. it is hard to speculate, but that has to be considered."
If you've read any of the articles and columns out of Detroit today, you know already that there are some folks there who are skeptical of the Lions' pick. Mendenhall was asked what he would tell those people:
"His potential is unlimited. He is fast enough, he is strong enough, he is quick enough. He is a hard enough worker. He retains information well enough, and he is consistent enough, both on and off the field, that there is really no downside.
He has made the fastest ascent I have ever heard of or even seen, or even believed was possible.
To me, there is no reason to believe he can go from a first-round draft pick to whatever level they would like him to perform at in a very similar time frame [to what he did at BYU], if not shorter.
This entire [Detroit] coaching staff watched him every single day at the Senior Bowl. When we bring players in our program, we see him just one day in a camp setting. Our risk goes way down and we have a good idea of what we are getting. They worked with him for an entire week. They know what they are getting. I know what they are getting. And that in and of itself is a great place to start from in terms of eliminating risk and giving everyone great security that he will not only play well, but play consistently for them."
A Detroit-area reporter asked Mendenhall to describe Ansah's personality:
"Ziggy is a phenomenal person. He would just as soon be out of the spotlight, if possible. ... He is conscientious, he is courteous, he is kind, and he is very nice. But he would just as soon avoid the limelight.
He is very, very intelligent. He is very smart, and he is a practical joker. He has an excellent sense of humor, and it will come across in a naive and unassuming way.
He will endear himself to the fans that will come and watch. He loves little kids. He loves to spend time with the youth in terms of playing with them. .... He is very faith-oriented, with strong moral values. But he also loves to have a good time."
For the people of Detroit who are looking for a great role model and a great person, man, he will endear himself to the community and they will become enthralled and really love him."
Mendenhall on what Ziggy's story will do for BYU's recruiting efforts:
"Already, our coaches out in the spring have said that almost every office they go into, the coaches are asking them about Ziggy. They have seen articles about him and have been impressed. .... Ziggy's exposure has really helped our program, not only in educating others, but intriguing them as to what BYU is all about."
On what people might now know:
"He is very smart. He retains information very well. He can learn and apply things very, very quickly. Because of that cerebral ability to learn and apply, with his physical ability, that has been very helpful to him."
Mendenhall said last night and again today that although Ziggy and another NFL player he coached, linebacker Brian Urlacher, are not similar in terms of playing style, they have other commonalities.
"Urlacher really worked like a walk-on. He worked like he wasn't given, or entitled to, anything. Ziggy is similar. All of this is so new to him that he relishes and takes on every challenge that is new and different. He won't back away from the challenge. He doesn't see himself above anything."