Baltimore Ravens DT Haloti Ngata
So often in today's world, young people have to live with a tragedy and that memory spurs them on to greatness. After almost two full seasons in the NFL, Baltimore DT Haloti Ngata has lived with the fact that he doesn't have either parent watching him ply his trade in the middle of the Ravens' defense, but the loss of his parents has driven him to be the best he can be at whatever he does.
As a senior at Highland High School in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2001, Ngata was named the top defensive prospect in the country by both Super Prep and PrepStar after amassing 100 tackles and 30 sacks (that isn't a typo) and being named the Gatorade player of the year.
“When I was a little kid, my older brothers played football and I always wanted to be like them," Ngata told the Baltimore Ravens official website earlier this week. "I started playing when I was 8, and I’ve always loved it since then."
Football wasn't the only sport that Ngata took to in high school. Rugby was another sport he excelled at, but he said he loved it for a different reason.
"(Because) I got the chance to run the ball," Ngata said with a laugh. "My Dad played rugby when he was younger and my uncle also played, so I watched them. My high school had a team that played in the spring during track. I’m not that fast."
Ngata might not be very fast, but his quick first step and outstanding strength led the Ravens to select him with the 12th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft after an up-and-down four-year career at the University of Oregon.
It was a bittersweet time for the gifted Ngata.
He lost his father, Solomone, who was a long-haul truck driver, in December of 2002 when the elder Ngata hit a patch of ice and died in the one-vehicle accident at the age of 45.
Ngata's mother, Olga, who already was suffering the effects of Diabetes and Kidney Disease, went downhill after Solomone's death and Ngata thought about leaving Oregon and quitting football to tend to his mother's needs.
He was convinced to play for the Ducks one more season and, after re-habbing from a torn anterior cruciate ligament the year before, Ngata was named the Pac 10 Co-Defensive Player of the year.
Because of his mother's mounting medical bills, Ngata, decided to leave with a year of eligibility remaining to help pay for her expenses.
Six days after declaring himself eligible for the 2006 NFL Draft, Olga suffered a heart attack while undergoing dialysis and passed away at the age of 44.
“We were expecting for her to get out of the hospital that same day," Ngata told Ravens Insider back in 2006. "I talked to her earlier that day and she sounded happy. Then I got the call later that night that she passed."
Four months later, surrounded by his three brothers (Finau, Vili and Junio), his sister (Ame) and his uncle, Haloti Moala, Ngata was at a Las Vegas restaurant when he was selected by the Ravens.
“It was an emotional time,” Nagata recalled. “My parents weren’t there. I was thinking about them a lot.
“I’m a really religious person, and I know that I’ll see them again. I’m just happy that my mom is up with my dad and they’re looking down at me.
“My parents loved to watch me play sports, so this will be the first time without one of them there," Ngata said shortly before his rookie season. "They’re going to be together, watching me, so I know it’s going to be the kind of season where they’re going to be there every step of the way.”
Ngata's parents would have to be happy with his short NFL career so far.
As a rookie in 2006, Ngata was named to the Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America All-Rookie team amassing 51 tackles, one sack and one interception.
So far in 2007, he's topped his outstanding rookie campaign by posting 58 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble, while generally being a pain the neck to opposing offenses.
“I wanted to get better with my technique. Last year, I was just trying to hold up blocks for linebackers," Ngata said earlier this week. "This year, I’m not only holding up blocks but also splitting double teams and making tackles. It’s completing the plays that I didn’t make last year."
Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has even started using the 6-4, 340-pounder as a linebacker.
“I’m having a lot of fun with it," Ngata said. "When Rex does it, it’s to try to open lanes so other people can make plays, or sometimes so I can get in the backfield. We mix it up so offenses don’t know when I’m blitzing."
Quarterbacks aren't the only targets of Ngata's blitzes either.
Diabetes has also felt to full fury of his efforts as he's now a spokesperson for Juvenile Diabetes.
"It means a lot, just because diabetes runs in my family," Ngata said. "I have some aunts and uncles that have diabetes, and my mom passed away from it.
"I’m just trying to help people be aware of this disease and get information about it out there.
"I’m trying to help children’s’ awareness of diabetes through an essay contest for elementary and high school students. They write an essay on how they would help those who suffer from diabetes, and then I work with the winner to try and put their plan to action."
For this week however, the Seahawks will be putting another plan into action -- stopping Ngata from wreaking havoc on their offense.