For many young, football-playing boys in the Washington, D.C., area, growing up to play for the hometown Washington Redskins is a childhood dream.
But for Andrew Ankrah, the Quince Orchard High School alum now trying to make the Redskins as an undrafted free agent, playing for the Redskins wasn’t really something he thought about as a youngster.
“I didn’t really have a team growing up,” the 6-foot-4, 248-pound Ankrah said following the Redskins’ practice last Saturday at their training camp in Richmond. “I used to be a skateboarder growing up,” and preferred playing recreational sports and pick-up basketball with my friends. “I wasn’t really like a tough kid. I didn’t really like contact growing up.”
But Ankrah got interested in football as he saw his older brother, Jason, become a highly recruited football player at QO and get a football scholarship to the University of Nebraska. So, he started playing football at QO “and then went from there.”
Where he’s gone since then is quite far.
He was a member of two QO teams that played in state championship games, and he received numerous individual honors including All-Montgomery County. He played college football at James Madison University and got better each season, earning various FCS All-American honors in his sophomore, junior and senior years and being named the national FCS Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
And now he has a chance to win a spot with the Redskins as an undrafted free agent linebacker/defensive end.
“Just a surreal experience, honestly,” Ankrah said of his first NFL preseason game in Cleveland last Thursday night.
Walking onto the field in an NFL stadium, “once you see those … fans, even though it wasn’t our home crowd, just a great atmosphere to play in.”
Ankrah said he played in “some great atmosphere being at JMU, just playing in national championships. … I played in great atmospheres, but nothing beats the NFL.”
Throughout his football progression, he’s gotten “great advice” from his older brother.
“He’s been here before,” said Ankrah of Jason, who played for Houston and Tennessee in the NFL after completing his football career at Nebraska. “He’s been in the National Football League. He’s played at a prestigious school in Nebraska, so I lean on him a lot for advice.”
Jason is now head coach of a high school football team in Nebraska, but “he watches my games, he follows me,” Ankrah said. “Just a great big brother, he’s been supporting me throughout my high school years, my college years, and even now.”
Ankrah played in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s preseason game at linebacker/DE as well as special teams. “When it’s your first NFL game, you kind of just want to take things as learning experiences and as lessons,” he said. “Even if you’re making plays there’s a lot you can learn from your play, whether it’s on special teams or whether it’s on the defensive side of the ball. So, I’m just looking forward to improving. … My coaches are just pushing for me to do the best and be the best player that I can be.”
He said his Redskins coaches tell him to “come out here every day with a great attitude and just have energy and enthusiasm and come out here with great effort and compete.”
As to his chances of beating the tough odds of making an NFL roster as an undrafted player, “I like to say that they’re good chances. I just always have faith in what I can do. I’m just out here trying to make this team just as everybody else and I believe and have confidence in my skill sets and my focus to making the team.”
And he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. Following practice on Saturday he took time to greet the parents of one of his former QO teammates who had come to watch him play, as well as friends from JMU. And he was well aware of QO’s 2018 state championship victory, saying he was “happy that my boys were able to bring it home last year.”
“I just want to tell them to come out with that same energy,” he said of this year’s QO team as they seek to repeat. “They have guys coming back, they have leaders on that team, they got guys who are hungry, driven to want to compete and win another state title. I know that guys want to play at the next level. They have great coaches there, and I know they can do it again.”
As to the QO community: “Go Red Army! Continue to be strong. I love the atmosphere and I love playing in the Cougar Dome. … Go Cougars!”