Haloti Ngata bear hugs life, offenses
A foe calls Ravens DT the NFL's "Incredible Hulk;" on-field ferocity inspired by tragedy
Foe: 'The only time I've been frightened of another player'
Opposing players already understand the problems Ngata creates for offenses. Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil spent most of last Sunday trying to help contain Ngata in the Ravens' 37-13 win. That effort reminded Kalil of all the times he faced Ngata when Kalil was at USC and Ngata at Oregon. In fact, Kalil recently described one play in college when Ngata stood up over him, then walked back a few yards before charging forward at the snap. If not for the assistance of a guard who chipped Ngata on the play, Kalil might still be shaking off that collision. "That was the only time in my life that I've ever been frightened of another player on a football field," said Kalil, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 295 pounds. "But that's why Haloti's presence alone is such a big thing. He has the size, the strength and the quickness to do whatever he wants out there."
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Sports provides no buffer from tragediesThe people who've known Ngata for years have a better understanding of the contrasting elements in his personality. They'll tell you Ngata's fiery nature comes from an intense love of competition and an inner confidence in his skills. The man was talented enough to be a star rugby player during his high school days in Salt Lake City. To this day, Ravens coaches still marvel at the sight of Ngata rumbling through opponents on a game tape that one of his friends sent to the staff.
The Ravens' foundation for the futureNgata also gained invaluable maturity during those tumultuous times. As Larry Wilson, his former Highland High School coach said, "It made him grow up faster than he would've liked. When he got to the NFL, he understood this was a job to be taken seriously. He understood clearly that you're always one bad play away from being out of the game."
“"I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't know you wanted me to call you back, Mr. Lewis." It wouldn't take long before the Ravens coaches gave Ngata reasons to come out of his shell. Former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan -- now the Jets' head coach -- didn't merely envision Ngata as a massive interior force. He saw Ngata's athleticism and figured he would fit nicely in a scheme known for asking players to line up in various positions to confuse an offense. By his second year, Ngata was lining up at linebacker and even safety as many as 10 to 12 plays a contest. "I thought it was crazy at first," Ngata said. " But [Ryan] helped me see how talented I was. He taught me that it was OK to not be afraid of being a finesse guy at times instead of always relying on power." When the Ravens talk about Ngata today, they see a player who's become capable of hurting defenses in a variety of ways. "He has a lot of natural ability but he's learned to play with better technique and pad level," Newsome said. Added defensive coordinator Greg Mattison: "Haloti has always been a tremendous run player but now he's become a good pass rusher. He's recognizing run and pass faster because he's studying things like down and distance and [lineman] stances." Still, most people think Ngata's recognition has been long overdue. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season; many thought he was snubbed by voters in 2008. Fittingly, Ngata didn't use the trip to Miami to club-hop or mingle at parties. Instead, he and Christina focused on caring for their infant son, Sam, and hanging out with relatives. "It was a unique experience," Ngata said. "But the big thing for me was being with my family." Ngata is even more focused on family now that he's watching his son grow. He often shows Sam, now 16 months old, pictures of Solomone and Olga when Ngata is sitting around the house. Before games, Ngata always points to the heavens and whispers "I love you" to the sky to honor his deceased parents. Then there are the days when fatherhood touches his heart. When Sam recently went to the barber for a haircut, Ngata noticed that his son now looked less like a toddler and more like a little boy. Ngata added that being a father has given him a new perspective on life. "Having a son changed me," Ngata said. "It's not just about me anymore. It's about supporting my family."
When I first got here, I watched everybody to see where I fit in. Now everybody knows who I am and what I'm about.” -- Ravens DT Haloti Ngata
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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