A recent Sports Illustrated profile of an athlete every bit as impressive as Bo Jackson
There’s a point near the start of “You Don’t Know Bo,” ESPN’s upcoming “30 for 30” episode about one of the early 1990s’ most iconic ahtletes, where the Bo Jackson praises really start gushing. At one point, an interviewee suggests Jackson may be equal if not greater than Jim Thorpe in terms of all-around athletic excellence.
Bo Jackson: history’s greatest athlete?
As the movie walks through his long list of accomplishments, there is an argument to be made. Jackson, at 6-1 and 220 pounds, presented a combination of power, speed and ability nobody had ever seen before in baseball and football. At the NFL Draft Combine, he ran a 4.12 in the 40 yard dash; he starred in the NFL and MLB , becoming the the first person named an All-Star in two major American sports leagues.
Jackson’s versatility certainly makes him one of the greatest athletes of the modern sports era (and, in terms of team sports, of all time), but if size, strength, speed and versatility are main criteria for grading an athlete’s rank, then we should consider Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah as someone who has entered Jackson’s stratosphere.
Let’s get this out of the way: Ansah hasn’t achieved anything near the level of success in his chosen sports as Jackson. He grew up playing soccer in Ghana, but as a teenager dreamed of playing in the NBA with LeBron James. Five years ago, he arrived in the United States, and tried to parlay his 39-inch vertical jump into a spot on the Brigham Young University basketball team.
He was cut.
Instead, Ansah walked on to the BYU track team, and promptly ran a 200-meter dash in 21.9 seconds. Over the next couple years, Ansah used his 6-6, 250-pound frame to dominate at intramural baskeball. He was so impressive that football players told him he should give their a sport a spin. At last, he gave in.
At the start of BYU’s 2010 summer camp, Ansah told head coach Bronco Mendenhall he wanted to play the game for the first time in his life. He didn’t know the rules. He had never lifted weights before. But he was big, fast, smart and eager to learn, as Jeff Benedict writes in Sports Illustrated.
Amazingly, two and a half years later, Ansah is a dominating nose tackle on the nation’s third-ranked defense. Despite not starting until the fourth week, he has 48 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss and is projects to be a first-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.
This, from a neophyte who was shoving his thigh pad into his knee pad slot two years ago. This, from a guy who until recently ran around the field without the slightest clue of how to tackle. “He was not lowering down and gearing up to hit someone,” another BYU player told Benedict. “He was just running. That allowed him to hit opponents with a speed that they were not prepared for. But he also wasn’t naturally protecting himself the way football players do. So he was taking blows to his body that most guys would never be able to endure.”
Now that Ansah actually understands the game, and now that he’s up to 270 pounds, he is a major pro prospect. “The combination of his height, weight and speed is probably unmatched,” one NFL scout told Benedict. As is Ansah’s story.
Jackson will always be considered one of the greatest athletes because he played so well – and so spectacularly – in two pro leagues. Ansah won’t have that chance (unless LeBron hears about his story and takes him under his wing as a publicity stunt), but his multi-faceted sports background, ability to quickly adapt to a brand-new game and a height, weight and speed combo that’s off the charts make him the 21st century version of, well, Bo Jackson.