New Orleans • Planted in the middle of the Baltimore Ravens' defense, 350-pound Haloti Ngata is an awful lot for an NFL offensive lineman to handle.
So just imagine what opponents were facing when he was running with the ball as a Highland rugby player in his high school days in Salt Lake City.
"I don't think they liked it as much," Ngata said Thursday, "but I loved it."
He's not quite as intimidating now that he's merely trying to shove aside blockers and make tackles, but he's highly productive in this job description. In his seventh NFL season, Ngata is becoming a perennial All-Pro performer and an anchor of the Baltimore team that will meet San Francisco in Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII.
He's big, but he's not merely taking up space. Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger ranks him among the team's top three athletes, saying Ngata "can move like a running back."
By now, the Ravens are accustomed to watching him make plays outside of a defensive tackle's traditional range. "Other people are surprised by his overall athletic ability, based on his size whenever you see him. He can do some things that are cat-like," said Clarence Brooks, the Ravens' defensive line coach.
Having chosen Oregon over BYU in a drama-filled recruiting process in 2002, Ngata is establishing himself as one of the best NFL players ever to come from a Utah high school. Beyond that, teammates and others who have known him throughout the years say he's grounded. "He's a huge inspiration, not only to myself but to the Polynesian community," said Will Tukuafu, a 49ers defensive lineman from East High who played against Ngata's Highland Rams. "The thing I admire most about him is â¦ with all the fame and wealth and whatever, he's still the same guy."
He's been shaped by tragedy. The death of his father during Haloti's freshman year of college Solomone Ngata was killed in a semi-truck rollover near Salt Lake City International Airport was crushing to him. "I didn't do the proper things I needed to do to mourn correctly. â¦ I didn't allow anybody to help," he said.
If anything, the season-ending knee injury he suffered the following year at Oregon motivated him to get going again. He responded by becoming a star for the Ducks. And then, just before the Ravens made Ngata the No. 12 overall pick in '06 NFL draft, his mother, Olga, became ill and died.
Larry Wilson, his high school football coach, witnessed the impact on Ngata, who lost both his parents within four years. "He felt very alone in the world," Wilson said. "They were so proud of him ... the greatest supporters any person could ever have. None of us could ever come close to replacing them, just try to be there and do our part."
Wilson considered spending Ngata's rookie season with him in Maryland, before deciding to let him establish his own life. "It's worked out tremendously," Wilson said.
As a defensive lineman, Ngata is far from the most recognizable Raven. But he's among the most respected players. "Everyone on that team, from Ray Lewis on down to whoever the last guy on the practice squad is, they all gravitate to this guy," Brooks said.
And Sunday, he'll be right in the middle of Baltimore's quest for a Super Bowl victory.
Utah preps in the Super Bowl
For the first time in 27 years, both Super Bowl teams will have at least one Utah high school graduate on their rosters: East's Will Tukuafu (San Francisco), Highland's Haloti Ngata (Baltimore) and Timpanogos' Paul Kruger (Baltimore). The Super Bowl history of Utah preps, listed on the game-day active rosters:
Super Bowl and Player • High School College Position Team Result
X Golden Richards • Granite BYU/Hawaii WR Dallas Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17
XII Golden Richards • Granite BYU/Hawaii WR Dallas Dallas 27, Denver 10
XVII Mat Mendenhall • East BYU DE Washington Washington 27, Miami 17
XVII Steve Clark • Skyline Utah DL Miami Washington 27, Miami 17
XVII Bruce Hardy • Bingham Arizona State TE Miami Washington 27, Miami 17
XIX Steve Clark • Skyline Utah DL Miami San Francisco 38, Miami 16
XIX Bruce Hardy • Bingham Arizona State TE Miami San Francisco 38, Miami 16
XX Jim McMahon • Roy BYU QB Chicago Chicago 46, New England 10
XX Art Plunkett • Skyline UNLV OT New England Chicago 46, New England 10
XXI Rulon Jones • Weber Utah State DE Denver N.Y. Giants 39, Denver 20
XXII Rulon Jones • Weber Utah State DE Denver Washington 42, Denver 10
XXV Hal Garner • Logan Utah State LB Buffalo N.Y. Giants 20, Buffalo 19
XXVI Hal Garner • Logan Utah State LB Buffalo Washington 37, Buffalo 24
XXIX Alfred Pupunu • South Weber State TE San Diego San Francisco 49, San Diego 26
XXXI Jim McMahon • Roy BYU QB Green Bay Green Bay 35, New England 21
XXXIII Travis Hall • West Jordan BYU DT Atlanta Denver 34, Atlanta 19
XXXIV Kevin Dyson • Clearfield Utah WR Tennessee St. Louis 23, Tennessee 16
XXXVII Barry Sims • Park City Utah OT Oakland Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21
XXXVII Doug Jolley • Dixie BYU TE Oakland Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21
XXXVII Junior Ioane • North Sanpete Arizona State DT Oakland Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21
XXXVIII Kevin Dyson • Clearfield Utah WR Carolina New England 32, Carolina 29
XXXIX Reno Mahe • Brighton BYU RB Philadelphia New England 24, Philadelphia 20
XL Andre Dyson • Clearfield Utah DB Seattle Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10