"When I first knew we had something special in Ziggy, it was the very first live play he got in (in 2010)," BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said in a conference call Friday.
"(He) was just running down on a kickoff (and) was 10 to 12 yards ahead of the next closest cover man. To see someone that big running that fast, I just thought, ‘Wow, what an amazing thing.'
"I knew it was special for at least that play, but I didn't know it would be special in terms of the NFL."
That didn't come until this season, according to Mendenhall.
"He learned our defense so well we could use him in two or three spots," he said. "I thought, 'man, for him to have learned this much, this fast, and be doing it this well, with the size and speed he has,' I knew then he would have a great opportunity to play (in the NFL)."
BYU used Ansah all over their defense last season and he finished with 62 tackles, 13 tackles for loss with 4.5 sacks.
Who knows if he would have gotten as many of those opportunities, though, had Eathyn Manumaleuna not suffered a knee injury.
Manumaleuna started the first four games at defensive end for BYU before suffering the knee injury. Ansah's playing time increased significantly because of it.
"But the volume of plays he was allowed to make and maybe the volume of total snaps he played would have gone down. If Ethan hadn't of gone down, maybe Ziggy wouldn't be in the position he's in today. It's hard to speculate, but it certainly has to be considered."
No matter how the opportunity presented itself, Ansah made the most of it, which Mendenhall has no doubt he'll do in the NFL, too.
"Detroit's plans to use him as a wide rusher really highlights all of his strengths," he said. "He's very quick off the ball. I think he can become a master of his craft in terms of becoming a true technician only doing pass rush -- only handling the edge and maintaining leverage.
"The potential is unlimited. 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 down side.
"He's made the fastest assent I've ever heard of or seen or even believed was possible 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 from a first-round pick to whatever level they'd like him to perform at in a very similar time frame."