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
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."
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.
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."