I didn't grow up a college football fan. I barely even watched football until I was a freshman at Oregon. I had a passing interest in Michigan via my mom but it wasn't until my first Oregon game, when Joey Harrington knocked off #6 ranked UCLA, followed by the same exact feat the following weekend against #6 Washington, that I caught the bug. I went to every home game thereafter while in Eugene.
By my sophomore year I was reading everything I could about the football team, posting on message boards, and following recruiting rankings. It was then that I first heard of Haloti Ngata, a 6'5 330+ lbs athletic, five-star, football freak from Utah who was the #2 ranked high school player in the country. Rumor had it that he was interested in attending the University of Oregon.
The rest is history. Ngata did indeed come to Oregon after flirting with taking a two-year mission and attending BYU. He went on to become arguably the best defensive lineman in Oregon history. He played in 12 games as a true freshman and broke into the starting lineup by game five. He finished the season second among defensive linemen in tackles and showed off his agility and athleticism by blocking kicks against USC, UCLA, and Washington. He also had 3.5 sacks on his way to honorable mention honors in the Pac-10 and First-Team freshman All-American honors.
After missing the 2003 season with a torn ACL that he suffered in the season opener, Ngata came back in 2004 and earned second-team all conference honors. Although he didn't play at full strength during his first few games, Ngata still finished fifth on the team in tackles and started nine games.
Ngata's best season at Oregon came in 2005. He led all Pac-10 defensive lineman with 55 tackles on his way to being a co-defensive player of the year and consensus First Team All-American. He was also a finalist for the Outland Trophy (best collegiate interior lineman) and the Bronko Nagurski award (best college defensive player) as a redshirt junior. Ngata finished his career at Oregon with 151 tackles (83 solo), 24.5 TFL, 10 sacks (-64 yards), 7 PD, 3 FFs and 1 FR in 36 career games (29 starts) over three years. He also set a school record with 7 blocked kicks (3 FGAs, 3 PATs and 1 punt).
Ngata entered the draft the following year and was the 12th overall pick by the Baltimore Ravens. For the last decade he has anchored the interior line of the most consistently excellent defense in the NFL. Between 12/17/06 and 10/4/09 the Ravens did not allow a 100-yard rusher in 39-consecutive games. Dating back to 2006 when Ngata entered the NFL, the Ravens have allowed 63 rushing TDs (fewest in NFL) and the third fewest rushing yards (93.1).
It is ironic that a team like Oregon has become best known for its offensive weapons when its best NFL players all come from the defensive side of the ball: Jairus Byrd, TJ Ward, Patrick Chung, and Kiko Alonso have all garnered defensive rookie of the year and all pro attention in recent years. Haloti Ngata has been the most dominant of all though and it's the reason why he is the highest ranked defensive player on ATQ's "20 in 20" list.