Ngata inspired by memory of his parents

OWINGS MILLS -- Haloti Ngata won't be alone tomorrow morning during his initial footsteps into the NFL when he dons a helmet and cleats in the Baltimore Ravens' locker room. Not in his heart, not in his mind and definitely not in spirit as the massive defensive tackle attends Saturday's rookie minicamp.

A devout Mormon, Ngata is certain that somewhere Solomone and Olga Ngata are watching him and taking pride in his status as the Ravens' first-round draft pick.

His father, Solomone, died in December of 2002 when a patch of ice caused his truck to slide off the highway.

The native of Tonga was 45 years old.

Olga Ngata, who suffered from diabetes and kidney disease, was the primary reason why Ngata departed school as a junior because he wanted to pay for her mounting medical bills. Only six days after he announced his decision to turn pro, she died of a heart attack at age 44 while undergoing dialysis.

"I'm a really religious person, and I know that I'll see them again," said Ngata, a 6-foot-4, 337-pounder from Salt Lake City who was drafted 12th overall. "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. 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."

When Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome traded a sixth-round selection to the Cleveland Browns to move up one spot to draft him, the bulky lineman began crying.

Surrounded by relatives, including his three brothers, Finau, Vili and Junio, his sister, Ame, and his uncle, namesake and mentor, Haloti Moala, Ngata was at a Las Vegas restaurant when he received the call from the Ravens. The tears wouldn't stop flowing for the Pac-10 Co-Defensive Player of the Year.

"It was an emotional time," said Ngata, whose draft celebration included the presence of three framed photographs of his parents. "My parents weren't there. I was thinking about them a lot. It was a bittersweet moment."

Olga Ngata's health rapidly declined after her husband's death, so much so that Ngata considered leaving Oregon to take care of her.

It was a shocking development when his mother died shortly before his 22nd birthday because her health had been improving and hopes were high that she might be able to leave the hospital soon.

"We were expecting for her to get out of the hospital that same day," Ngata said. "I talked to her earlier that day and she sounded happy. Then I got the call later that night that she passed."

It wasn't Ngata's first brush with tragedy.

During his freshman year at Oregon, Solomone, a long-distance truck driver, died in a one-vehicle accident. Nearly nine months later, Ngata shredded his anterior cruciate ligament against Mississippi State in the Ducks' regular-season opener.

The two life-altering events affected his outlook on everything.

"I didn't handle that as well as I should have," Ngata said. "Mentally, I went downhill."

The tough times persisted, but so did this tough guy.

As a junior, he emerged as Oregon's first consensus All-American in four decades with 61 tackles and three sacks and was named a finalist for the Outland and Lombardi trophies.

The athletic former rugby player finished his career with a school-record seven blocked kicks. He's the highest drafted former Utah high school football player since Jim McMahon was tabbed fifth overall by the Chicago Bears in 1982.

"Football is an escape to me," Ngata said. "It's kind of a release of stress and anger."

The Ravens regard the soft-spoken so-called gentle giant highly for more than his uncommon size and movement.
They got to know him well during the pre-draft process, chatting him up at the scouting combine and flying him in for a get-acquainted job interview in April along with Oregon wide receiver Demetrius Williams, the team's fourth-round pick.

Ngata was the fourth-ranked defensive player on the Ravens' draft board behind North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams, Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk and Texas safety Mike Huff.

"There's a maturity there that you don't normally see in a young man of this age," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "There are life experiences that will do that to you. That's a strength that he can draw on."

NOTE: The team's two-day rookie camp concludes Sunday. It will be attended by 10 draft picks along with several undrafted free agents, including former UCLA quarterback Drew Olson who finished eighth in the Heisman voting.

Aaron Wilson writes Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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