Gaining team, Ngata thinks of his loss, too

Recalling parents brings top pick to tears

May 01, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

After Haloti Ngata heard he had been drafted by the Ravens in the first round Saturday, even a burly, 337-pound nose tackle couldn't hold back the tears.

There were feelings of accomplishment. There were feelings of loss.

"I was emotional because my parents weren't there," said Ngata, the 12th overall pick in the NFL draft. "I was thinking about them a lot. It was a bittersweet moment."

His father, Solomone, died three years ago when the truck he was driving hit a patch of ice and slid off the road. His mother, Olga, died in January from diabetes and kidney failure.

Ngata said the main reason he left school a year early was to pay for his mother's medical bills. But six days after Ngata announced he was going pro, Olga, who was suffering from a kidney ailment, died of cardiac arrest while undergoing dialysis.

"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."

Tragedy first hit Ngata in December 2002. After a freshman season in which Ngata was named honorable mention All-Pac-10, Solomone, a truck driver, was killed in an automobile accident while on the job one morning.

Less than nine months after his father's death, Ngata blew out his knee in Oregon's season opener against Mississippi State.

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

Ngata grew stronger from that time, as did his family. He set the NFL as a goal so he could help out three brothers and one sister, whose ages range from 26 to 18.

Two years removed from that devastating knee injury, Ngata secured his spot in the first round with a sensational junior season. He recorded 61 tackles, nine of which were for losses, and totaled three sacks.

He became Oregon's first consensus All-American in 43 years, and Ducks coach Mike Bellotti said that Ngata was the best player he's coached in his 11 years at the school.

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

The one knock on Ngata is that he doesn't always show that passion and takes plays off at times.

"I don't pay attention to it," he said. "I focus on my strengths and work on my weaknesses. I'll work harder and harder. Effort is something I don't have to be coached on."

The Ravens had Ngata rated as the fourth-best defensive player in the draft behind Mario Williams, A.J. Hawk and Michael Huff.

The expectation is that the Ravens' run defense - which hasn't ranked in the top 5 since 2001 - will return to its dominating form with Ngata.

"What Haloti will do is gain a level of experience to match his sheer power," coach Brian Billick said. "He is such an anchor inside, that's going to make a big, big difference for us."

Team officials noted that Ngata stood out with a soft-spoken, hard-hitting demeanor.

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

Ngata has dedicated this season to his mother. It marks the first time that he won't have a parent sitting in the stands but he doesn't feel like he'll be alone.

"They're going to be together watching me," Ngata said. "I know they're going to be with me this season every step of the way."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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