At the Division II level this season, Indiana University of Pennsylvania cornerback Akwasi Owusu-Ansah has drawn comparisons to Arizona Cardinals playmaker Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was a Division I-AA prospect at Tennessee State during the 2008 NFL Draft. Rodgers-Cromartie elevated his status from a third round prospect to an eventual first round prospect after a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and the Scouting Combine. And if all goes well for Owusu-Ansah this year, he could do the same during the ’10 draft.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound playmaking corner is coming off of a junior campaign where he had eight interceptions - one which he returned for a 74-yard touchdown - but registered just 14 tackles in 10 games. His interception total was quite impressive, and the amount of passes he gets his hands on is staggering; he finished the ’08 season with 18 passes defended. Owusu-Ansah has improved his tackling this season and already has 11 tackles and two interceptions in four games.
In this Scout.com exclusive, NFL Draft Analyst Chris Steuber asked Owusu-Ansah about his ascension as an NFL prospect, when he started playing the game, how he ended up at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, if his name has a special meaning and much more.
Chris Steuber: How are you handling your sudden popularity amongst scouting circles?
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah: I really try not to pay attention to it; I just do what I’m coached to do and continue to prepare myself for each game. And I think the rest will take care of itself.
CS: Are you overwhelmed by the attention thus far?
Owusu-Ansah: It can be overwhelming, but I definitely have to keep a level head, because there’s still a long season ahead of me. I can’t let the early success get to me. I have to focus on the task at hand, but it’s really a humbling experience. In the spring, I had no idea that I was even on the radar [of scouts], and to have so much attention early – it’s really humbling.
CS: When did you realize that you were on NFL scouts radar?
Owusu-Ansah: It was in the summer, actually. I got a call from an agent, and I was like, “Whoa.” He was just talking to me, and after that the attention started to come. The coaches called me up to school for the summer, and they wanted me to work out with the team; they told me scouts were coming. So, it was during the early part of the summer that I realized there was an opportunity for me.
CS: When you meet with a scout, what do they want to know about you?
Owusu-Ansah: They just want to know about me; about where I’m from, where I grew up, where I played high school ball – they just want to get to know me as a person. They ask me why I chose to play football; what influenced me – different questions like that.
CS: When a scout comes to see you, do they ever mention or hint to you that it’s tough to envision how you will do at the next level, because of the competition you face at the Division II level?
Owusu-Ansah: Surprisingly, no, they haven’t, but I know that’s going to be a big question I’ll face. So far nobody’s said anything like that to me. But I’m sure it’s on their mind. It’s only right to have that type of question, I just have to wait and see.
CS: Do you ever wonder how you would fair at the Division I level?
Owusu-Ansah: Sometimes I do, definitely. When I watch games, I know I could have played at the Division I level, but I don’t know. Honestly, I think about it all the time. Me and my other teammates, we sit and watch the games on TV; we think about it all the time. I remember when I came to college, I thought that Division I athletes were super human, you know. And now that I’m a senior and playing college football, I get more and more confidence knowing that I could have played at that level. I do get curious and I’m kind of excited to see how I compare to them soon. But, I don’t regret coming to IUP. It’s been a great four years here, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
A big play defender, Owusu-Ansah had 8 INTs in '08.
CS: It won’t be too long until you will be able to compare yourself amongst the best in the country; the Scouting Combine is a venue where you will likely end up and be able to display your skills to NFL personnel. Scouts will have filed reports on your abilities by that time, but meeting with teams and telling them what you’re all about is just as important. If you had 20 – 30 seconds to describe yourself as a person and a player to a team, what would you say?
Owusu-Ansah: I’d say that I’m a humble, hardworking competitor; that would describe me best. I’m willing to learn; willing to be coached; willing to do almost anything to become a great player. I know not everybody becomes a great player, but I’d like to think that if I give 100-percent and everything I have, that greatness is possible.
CS: On the field, you have great size and appear to be a strong defender. What do scouts tell you about your ability, and what are they most impressed with?
Owusu-Ansah: I think they like what they see, but they haven’t really mentioned anything to me. I’m sure they like my size; I like to think they do, but they haven’t said anything to me specifically.
CS: There’s a lot of football fans out there that have no idea who you are, and when you Google your name there isn’t a lot of information that comes up. Who is Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and what made you want to play football?
Owusu-Ansah: [Laughs]. That’s a tough question; I don’t have a special story. As a kid, I played neighborhood ball, and I didn’t play organized football until I was in the eighth grade. Before that it was just calling friends and playing pickup football outside. I guess that’s what made me what I am today. [Laughs].
CS: Prior to playing football, what were your interests; did you play other sports, were you into music – what’s your background?
Owusu-Ansah: My first organized sport was soccer. I started playing that in the second grade. Being from West Africa, soccer is a popular sport. Soccer was the first sport I ever played, but I stopped playing it after my second grade year. Other than that, my brother was a standout track athlete; I was very open to everything. I played basketball, everything; I didn’t want to choose one sport; I liked to play the field.
CS: Do you look at a guy like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a guy who’s a similar case to you in the fact that he didn’t start playing organized ball until his senior year in high school. You didn’t start playing until you were in eighth grade; having a late start, I guess that makes you more promising because there’s a lot of untapped potential. Do you look at it like that?
Owusu-Ansah: Definitely, I definitely agree with you. I think with me starting late, it only adds to the excitement of wanting to play more. Football can wear down your body, especially if you started when you were a young kid – I agree with you.
A late bloomer, Owusu-Ansah has the talent to ascend into Day 1 of the '10 draft.
CS: Was Indiana University of Pennsylvania the only school that showed interest in you during the recruiting process?
Owusu-Ansah: I didn’t get any offers from any D-I schools, but I got other offers from D-II schools. I remember when I was choosing schools out of high school, I wanted to play D-I ball, so I would send out highlight tapes to small D-I schools in the MAC, as well as other schools. But IUP and Edinboro University were the D-II schools recruiting me; that’s about it.
CS: That’s amazing to me. I’ve seen about five to six games that you’ve played, and it’s incredible that no other teams showed interest in you. It really shows that the recruiting process is flawed in many ways.
Owusu-Ansah: Yeah, definitely; I think it has a lot to do with what high school you go to, your coaches’ connections and how you market yourself by going to different camps. The high school I went to, we only had one D-I athlete in the last 10 – 15 years, and I think that had a lot to do with where I ended up. I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of going to camps at different schools. I know that would have helped me a lot, and if I knew I would have done that. I just remember going to one camp during my senior year, that’s it.
CS: I’m sure you’ve had a lot of great moments at IUP during your career; what’s your most memorable moment on the field?
Owusu-Ansah: That’s a good question… I think it was during my freshman year, I don’t think it was my best game, but it was my most memorable game. We played Cal [California University of Pennsylvania]; I didn’t really play a lot, but we came back and won the game on the last drive against our rival. That was my most memorable experience.
CS: What are your goals this year, individually and as a team?
Owusu-Ansah: As far as a team, playoffs are always the goal, but individually, my goal is to at least have as much success as I did the year before, if not better. I want to be more aggressive as a tackler; have more tackles. And I want to have at least as many interceptions as I did last season.
CS: You just mentioned that you want to have more tackles this year; last year you only had 14 and this year you already have 11, what’s up with that? You’re a physical looking guy, is it the defensive scheme that doesn’t allow you to have an impact in that area or what?
Owusu-Ansah: I’d say it’s the defensive scheme. The way we run our defense, we have a boundary corner and a field corner; I play the field corner. Before the opposition gets to my level, we have the free safeties and linebackers make the tackle. Last season, we only allowed one run over 15 yards the whole season. So, I just think it’s a combination of scheme and good defense.
CS: So you’re saying that your tackle output is deceiving and not a reflection of your physicality?
CS: In your defense, you play cornerback, but is it fair to say that you’re basically a free safety?
Owusu-Ansah: In our defense, we play a lot of two-deep. I play a lot of corner, but in this certain defense, in which we play a lot, I’m kind of in the free safety position. I know that’s a big question; why am I playing like a free safety? That’s just how we run our defense.
Owusu-Ansah's name may be hard to pronounce, but his ability is hard to ignore.
CS: Do you think you translate best as a free safety or a cornerback in the NFL?
Owusu-Ansah: Honestly, I really don’t know. I would say since I’m a bigger type of corner, I would say corner; I have a bigger body that would be successful. But I think playing free safety allows you to range more; I have good range from side-to-side. I like breaking up passes from over the top like a free safety would, but it really isn’t up to me.
CS: Did you ever run the 40 and if so, what was your time?
Owusu-Ansah: Yeah, I did; we had a Pro Day at our school in the spring and we ran it indoors. We had bad weather that day, so we ran inside one of our hallways. They didn’t tell me my time; my coaches wouldn’t tell us.
CS: How do you think you did though?
Owusu-Ansah: I think I did really well; the other players that ran it had to run twice, I ran just once. They told me that I was good after my first attempt. So, it had to be pretty good.
CS: I have to be honest, prior to our interview, I had the toughest time pronouncing your name, but I think I have it down now – “uh-KWAZ-ee oh-WOO-soo AHN-sah.” Does it have a special meaning?
Owusu-Ansah: Yes, in Ghana, which is in West Africa, they have different names for different days. My name, Akwasi, it means Sunday born. And, for instance, my older brother’s name is Kofi, and that means Friday born. And I’m sure you’re familiar with Kofi Annan from the United Nations, his name means Friday born as well. So, if you go to Ghana, there’s a lot of Akwasi’s, a lot of Kofi’s, stuff like that. [Laughs].
CS: Interesting... your name means Sunday born, which means you were born to play in the NFL.
Owusu-Ansah: [Laughs]. I never really looked at it like that; I guess so. [Laughs].
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: email@example.com. You can also now follow Chris Steuber on Twitter.