Quince Orchard’s Andrew Ankrah goes from skateboarder to defensive end to center on the basketball team

Doug Kapustin/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST - Quince Orchard's Andrew Ankrah (82), seen here on the football field, has become a valuable contributor for the Cougars on the hardwood in his first season of varsity basketball. He’ll play football at James Madison.

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The memory still sticks out clearly for Quince Orchard football coach Dave Mencarini, a story that links two of his favorite players in eight years at the Derwood public school.

In January 2009, Mencarini arrived at the Gaithersburg townhouse of Kofi Ankrah and Nana Bonsu with University of Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini in tow.

One of the area’s top recruits waited inside. Jason Ankrah, then a Quince Orchard senior, had orally committed to play defensive end for the Cornhuskers and now Pelini paid an informal visit to make sure that pledge would become official on National Signing Day.

Outside, Andrew Ankrah, an eighth grader, deftly hopped off his skateboard and greeted the coaches from the sidewalk. The little brother, sporting a flannel shirt and ripped jeans, wasn’t so little, already nearing 6-foot-3 with the long, slender build of an athlete.

Soon enough, Ankrah, who did not play any organized sports at the time, was back on his board, blissfully practicing his tricks as Mencarini and Pelini headed inside to meet the coveted All-Met lineman in the family.

Four years later, Andrew Ankrah – now 6-foot-4, 220 pounds – continues to build on the potential so evident to Mencarini that day. As a senior, Ankrah has become a three-sport athlete at Quince Orchard and last month signed to play football at James Madison.

“He’s developed into such a fine young man,” Mencarini said. “He’s really, really interesting. Football’s a big part of that, but he’s such a humble kid and he’s so appreciative. I don’t think he thought this could ever happen to him.”

Before joining his brother in the college football ranks next fall, Ankrah remains focused on his latest undertaking: basketball. He has thrown the same work ethic into his new sport that helped him morph into a Football Championship Subdivision prospect in a short time.

By honing his raw game on the hardwood, Ankrah’s role as a reserve center has gradually increased. He struggled to make it off the bench early in the year but has become a reliable option in the post with 22 points in 64 minutes over 12 games for the Cougars, who earned the No. 3 seed in the Maryland 4A West and open the postseason on Thursday night against Whitman.

“Every timeout,” longtime Q.O. basketball coach Paul Foringer said, “he plays a little bit better and a little bit better.”

Ankrah had played plenty of pickup games in recent years and even joined the Cougars for a few summer league contests, but he took that interest to the next level this fall when he told Foringer he wanted to give up indoor track and instead try out for the basketball team when football ended.

Well, Ankrah hoped to tryout, anyway. First, he wanted to make sure he cleared it with his future football coaches, and so the weekend after the Cougars fell in the Maryland 4A final to Wise, he mustered up the courage to call James Madison assistant Tony LeZotte to ask permission to launch his basketball career.

LeZotte “totally supported it,” Ankrah said. “He said, ‘Go for it man. It’s your senior year. You should be able to do what you want.’ Actually, when I heard that I felt even better about my decision [to go to James Madison] because I knew I was going to into a good program where they really trust and care about me.”

Ankrah’s pure physical skills have certainly helped ease the transition to basketball as they have in many of his athletic pursuits, be it skateboarding, football or track.

Despite his size, he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds and qualified for the Maryland 4A/3A state meet as a hurdler last spring. He’s also the only member of the Quince Orchard basketball team who can dunk, though he hasn’t actually slammed one down in a game yet.

Last summer, Ankrah landed the football scholarship offer from James Madison before he’d ever started a varsity game, in large part, because of those tools. Early in his football career, the defensive end faced inevitable comparisons to his brother, who will be a fifth-year senior with the Cornhuskers in the fall, but Mencarini brought him along slow.

Ankrah played two seasons of junior varsity and was a backup in 2011 to Kieran Gregory and Darnell Leslie. Gregory has signed with Richmond, while Leslie currently plays at Monmouth (N.J.). Seeing his first extensive action as a senior, Ankrah tallied 37 tackles with six sacks and 17 quarterback hurries.

“Obviously, his best football days are far ahead of him,” Mencarini said. “I think that’s what JMU sees in him, this great piece of clay that needs to be molded.”

On the basketball court, each practice has represented a chance to get better, too. Early on, he struggled to handle Foringer’s offensive and defensive concepts, not because he couldn’t learn but rather he came in so far behind his teammates.

Missing a week to play in the Maryland Crab Bowl, an all-star football game, and another few days over the holiday break to attend a family gathering didn’t help, either. But Foringer has come to depend on Ankrah for a few minutes each game, and he’s produced, equaling his season high with six points twice in the past four games.

Ankrah believes the basketball experience will help him next year when he joins James Madison. Once again, he’ll be the new guy, doing his best to get up to speed in an unfamiliar system.

“I knew I was going into an environment where people were going to know more than I did,” Ankrah said. “I had to humble myself and remember that. I just tried to watch and learn as quickly as I could.”

 
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