JMU’s Ankrah following in brother’s footsteps

JMU's Andrew Ankrah celebrates a play against Delaware last season. Ankrah, who had 10.5 sacks last year, will be looking to lead the defense again this season. Courtesy photo/JMU Athletics Communications

HARRISONBURG — Andrew Ankrah gave up on a passion to follow in his brother’s footsteps and now has another passion — football.

The James Madison University redshirt junior defensive lineman loved skateboarding as a youngster, but after watching his brother have a lot of success in football he decided to give the sport a try.

“Me and my brother are best friends,” Ankrah said. “He’s the one that got me into football. We always keep in touch with one another. He’s working hard every single day. Football is his passion and he really transferred it onto me. He made me grow a love for football that I never had when I was younger.”

Ankrah’s brother, Jason, was a standout defensive end at the University of Nebraska and also played in the National Football League. He played for the Houston Texans in 2014, and last year he was on the Tennessee Titans practice squad all season but is currently an unsigned free agent. Andrew Ankrah said his brother has been working out and is still hoping to get a chance to play for an NFL team this season.

Ankrah said that he’s glad that he gave up skateboarding for football. He said that football is like skateboarding in terms of the mental toughness you have to have.

“Skateboarding — you have to get over a lot of mental humps,” Ankrah said. “It’s a really dangerous sport, but when I used to skateboard it was all really a mental thing.”

Ankrah began playing football his senior of high school at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He made the most of his one year of football by recording 17 sacks.

It was enough to get looks from colleges, including JMU. Ankrah redshirted his first year at JMU and said it was a great learning experience for him. Ankrah played at linebacker the last two seasons.

Two years ago, Ankrah was able to get in 11 games and had 18 tackles. Last year was a breakout year for Ankrah and he said the pieces finally fell into place for him as far as learning more about the game.

“It was a gradual learning process for me, having different coaches and changing my position. I’m always learning new things,” Ankrah said. “I don’t want to say that I have a lot of experience, but I’ve learned a lot my past few years here at JMU.”

The Dukes have had three different head coaches in the past four years, and with that comes turnover with assistant coaches as well. Ankrah said he’s learned a lot from all the different coaches he’s had in such a short time.

Last season Ankrah played all 12 games for JMU and finished with 56 tackles and 10.5 sacks. He was ranked eighth in Football Championship Subdivision in sacks per game (0.88).

“It was really fun, because the coaches pushed me hard,” Ankrah said of last season. “(JMU outside linebackers) coach (John) Bowers always stresses giving effort and growing up as a player. I know that if I run to the ball good things are going to happen.”

Ankrah will be playing on the defensive line this season under new defensive coordinator Bob Trott. Ankrah said he likes knowing how to play on the defensive line and at linebacker.

“I enjoy doing both (positions) because they’re both defensive positions,” Ankrah said. “I really want to stress getting better at defensive line, because it’s important. You’re down there in the trenches with a lot of the big boys and you can make a lot of good plays down there in the trenches. So I just want to stress that, and I can build off what I did last year at outside linebacker.”

Ankrah could be primed to have another big season for the Dukes. He was selected as Preseason All-American by STATS, Athlon Sports FCS and HERO Sports

JMU head coach Mike Houston said he’s been pleased with how Ankrah has done in the offseason.

“I think Andrew has worked a lot since last season to improve his physical strengths without sacrificing any of his explosiveness,” Houston said. “He was a little light when we got here for what we want him to do. I think we’ve shown him what he can be, talking to him about some different guys that have played in this system before and what they look like and what their skill set was. So he’s excited about that.”

The Dukes start the season against Morehead State at 6 p.m. Sept. 3.

Ankrah said he has a good feeling about this year’s team and what they can accomplish.

“The goal is to win conference. That’s always a goal you should always have in mind, and just to be a better team than we were last year” Ankrah said.

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com