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Bittersweet
Jeffri Chadiha
May 08, 2006
Haloti Ngata's draft joy came in knowing how proud his parents would have been
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May 08, 2006

Bittersweet

Haloti Ngata's draft joy came in knowing how proud his parents would have been

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THE ANNOUNCEMENT arrived shortly after 11 a.m. local time last Saturday in Las Vegas, and moments later Haloti Ngata broke down. As nearly 100 relatives and friends poured into a cramped private room of the ESPN Zone, cheering his name and the news that the Baltimore Ravens had selected the 6'4", 338-pound Oregon defensive tackle with the 12th pick in the draft, Ngata hugged his four siblings, one after another, clutching them tightly. Each time he let go of one family member and reached for another, more tears welled in his eyes.

For the Pac-10 co-defensive player of the year, widely considered the best run-stopping interior lineman in the draft, becoming a first-round pick was the culmination of a long journey filled with heartbreak. While Ngata savored every minute of the celebration with his brothers, Finau, Vili and Junior, and his sister, Ame, on Saturday, his thoughts were with the two people who were gone from his life.

In December 2002 Ngata's father, Solomone, was killed in a single-vehicle truck accident. And last Jan. 13, shortly after the end of Haloti's junior season, his mother, Olga, who suffered from diabetes, died of a heart attack while receiving dialysis treatment. "They were all I could think about when I heard my name called," said Ngata (pronounced NAH-ta), whose parents had both emigrated from the Pacific island of Tonga before Haloti was born, "It's a great moment for me, and I wish they could've been here to be a part of it."

Olga's declining health had factored heavily into Haloti's decision to turn pro early. Distraught after her husband's death, she had failed to take proper care of herself and suffered from kidney disease, a common complication for diabetics. Haloti nearly left Oregon before his sophomore year to return to his hometown of Salt Lake City and help support Olga. When she entered a Phoenix hospital for dialysis treatments on Jan. 1, he asked his mother if she approved of his decision to enter the 2006 draft. Olga said yes.

Twelve days later, while Haloti was training for the draft in Houston, he received the news that Olga had died. He was stunned--he and his family had understood that his mother's health was improving and that she might soon leave the hospital.

After the funeral on Jan. 24, three days after his 22nd birthday, Ngata returned to Houston to prepare for the NFL combine. His uncle, Haloti Moala, joined him there for four weeks to provide emotional support. "This had always been his dream, and he wanted to follow through on it, especially because his mother had supported it," Moala said. "He wanted to make sure he was in the best shape he could be for the combine. Football kept him going when his father died, and it's done the same for him through his mother's death."

When Ngata talks about how he has endured the tough times, he mentions his Mormon faith and the support he's received from Moala; from his longtime girlfriend, Christina Adams; and from his high school coach, Larry Wilson. They were among the multitude crammed into the room when Ngata's dream was realized on Saturday. Fittingly, as he received word from the Ravens, he stood close to three framed photos of his parents. "I'm thankful to have had my parents for as long as I did," Ngata said. "I'm happy they left this world knowing that they were proud of me, and I know that they're watching me right now."

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