By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
For the past 12 years, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has been a force to be reckoned with on the field. His versatility made him one of the lynchpins of the Baltimore Ravens defense from 2006 – 2014 (including as part of their Super Bowl XLVII-winning team), and now Ngata, a five-time Pro Bowler, is a veteran leader for the Lions – as well as their nominee for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award (WMPOY).
Ngata was always interested in doing more and making an impact in the community. In 2012, while still in Baltimore, he and his wife, Christina, started the Haloti Ngata Family Foundation. The foundation is, in great part, an homage to Ngata’s mother, Ofa, who passed away just three months before the Ravens drafted Ngata with the 12th overall pick. The Ngata’s are Tongan and in the Tongan language Ofa is the word for love. The foundation’s mission statement is “…to improve the lives of others through love and strength.”
At the outset, the Ngata’s worked on behalf of multiple organizations and causes from medical to law enforcement. Then one day, Ngata’s mother-in-law was in church where she overheard a conversation between two other parishioners who were discussing an ACT (college) prep course that was being discontinued due to the lack of funds. Then suddenly, Ofa Ngata’s name came up. They were referencing a program she had started when Ngata was in high school in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Ngata recalled what had transpired at that time.
“My mom helped start [the prep course] because I failed the test multiple times,” he laughed. “We couldn’t afford tutors and I’m not a good test taker. So, after I took this course for free, I passed and was able to accept my scholarship and go to Oregon.”
It was that happenstance that gave the Ngatas the focus they were looking for and they started the Ofa Ngata Fund as the main component of their foundation.
“We decided to start funding these classes for ACT and SAT prep,” Ngata said. “For it to come around full circle and me to fund these classes, it is amazing. I failed it, and I know what it’s like for students who need a couple more points to get a scholarship, or even just to be accepted. We’ve done this for three years so, we’re waiting for some of the success stories to come back but we’ve helped a bunch of kids get academic scholarships or just get into a better school. It’s so fun that so many of these kids take this course and love it and to hear their stories is awesome. It’s going to be important for some many people to have a chance to get into a better college.”
The foundation is looking at continued expansion, especially in all the communities where Ngata has been a member and received support along the way.
2017 didn’t turn out exactly as Ngata hoped, with a biceps tear sidelining him in October. However, there was a silver lining. Ngata was able to put more time than usual into his foundation during the season, and in addition to being the Lions’ WPMOY nominee for which he received $50,000 for his foundation, Ngata also won the Man of the Year Charity Challenge, which rewards the player who gets the most Twitter hashtag mentions with and additional $25,000 for their charity.
“[The challenge] was so fun,” Ngata said. “Because I was injured, I was able to interact with fans so, that was pretty cool. Then it started with a small group of my family and they spread it out and it got bigger and bigger around the country. I’m Polynesian so we have this thing called Poly Twitter so a lot of Polynesians got into it. (Pro golfer) Tony Finau and (Milwaukee Bucks forward) Jabari Parker (both who are Ngata’s cousins), wrestler Roman Reigns who is Samoan, he tweeted out a couple of times. Then we had my cousin Dinah Jane who’s a Fifth Harmony singer.”
Ngata also enjoys not only being in the company of others doing such important work, but serving as an example to others, including his own three sons, Solomon, Haloti and Colt. In fact, his eldest son already has a plan for his own future.
“My son wants to be a football player and do community service,” Ngata said. “He wants to help kids with cancer. It’s pretty cool when your son wants to do community service. I love that he paid attention to it.”
As for Ngata, he is humbled by the award and flattered to mentioned with those he has looked up to and admired.
“I’ve always loved seeing these guys that are nominated for [WPMOY],” Ngata said. “They’re all great guys and I thought that it would be cool to be nominated and for my name to be next to some of these men. I couldn’t more thankful.”
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.