What Ravens area scout Andy Weidl remembers most about his visit to Eugene, Ore., in March of 2006 was that thunderous noise produced each time the Ducks' top prospect collided with tackling dummies.
"It was like watching a grizzly bear run," Weidl recalls fondly.
That prospect was
The Ravens' love affair with Ngata didn't begin that spring day on the Oregon campus. In fact, it was Ngata's play early in the 2005 season that quickly caught the attention of then-director of college scouting Eric DeCosta.
"He was a guy who jumped off the page," DeCosta remembers. "His junior year was like a highlight film. He had some very, very good tape. We had a chance to see him do some amazing things for a guy his size, and that included making an impact on special teams."
One of the incredible things Ngata did occurred during a game versus Arizona his junior year. While in on the punt return team, Ngata broke through the middle of the line and timed his leap perfectly to force a block. The ball zoomed back about 20 yards, like it had been shot out of a cannon. Arizona punter Danny Baugher came up with the pigskin and took off looking to recoup some of the lost yards. Hustling until he heard the whistle, Ngata zoned in on Baugher. As Baugher tried to cut back across the field, Ngata unloaded on the punter and – BOOM – with his tackle's brute force, broke the specialist's leg.
Plays like these made DeCosta realize he needed to show Ngata to the Ravens chief personnel decision-maker – General Manager Ozzie Newsome.
"He was a player who early on in the process I had brought down to Ozzie to watch on tape in October. I know Ozzie likes a certain type of player, so I dubbed Haloti 'Ozzie's Guy' because I knew he'd be appealing to Ozzie down the stretch as we got closer to the draft."
'A PLANET PLAYER'
As the 2006 offseason unfolded, the Ravens lost key contributors from their defensive line when Anthony Weaver (Houston) and Ma'ake Kemoeatu (Carolina) signed with other teams. Baltimore added Trevor Pryce and Justin Bannan to a defensive front that still boasted stalwart Kelly Gregg and Dwan Edwards, but that didn't mean there wasn't room to add come April's draft.
"It's hard to find players like Haloti; they're planet players," affirms DeCosta. "There's only a few of those guys on the planet who have size and can move like that. If you have the chance to take one, you need to take him."
But with Baltimore owning pick No. 13, it was no sure bet Ngata would fall to the Ravens.
Sitting in Radio City Music Hall on draft day with his headset on, Ravens scout Chad Alexander awaited directions from the team's facility. As each pick came off the board and Ngata remained unclaimed, Alexander's excitement grew.
"The Cardinals took [Matt] Leinart at 10. The Broncos took [Jay] Cutler at 11. Then the Browns were on the clock," Alexander recalls. "It's the first round, [we're] picking at 13, and everybody was excited and dialed in that we were going to get Haloti. When Arizona got finished picking, [we're] thinking, 'It's go-time.'"
As Cleveland's time on the clock continued to tick with the 12th pick, uncertainty grew as to whether the Browns, or another team trading with Cleveland, might select Ngata ahead of the Ravens. Deciding to remove all doubt as to where the All-American would play in 2006, Newsome agreed to send the 13th pick and a sixth-round selection to Cleveland for the 12th choice in the draft. After doing so, Baltimore snagged Ngata, and the rest is history.
Giving up anything of value to move up a mere spot in the draft may seem costly, but that's not how Ravens brass saw it when it got the chance to acquire the now-four-time Pro Bowler. As DeCosta states, "In the end, we'd have paid any price to get Haloti. He's that type of player who fit us and exactly what we do."
As soon as Ngata arrived for training camp in 2006, it was clear to Defensive Line Coach Clarence Brooks that he had a special talent on hand.
"Haloti came in and started right away, and he was a special player," Brooks remembers. "The thing with Haloti is he's an outstanding athlete for a guy that size. That's the first thing that catches your mind. He's an easy mover; he can do a lot of things athletically that a lot of people will struggle to do. He does them by nature, even though he's one of the biggest men in the league. I don't know if there is another guy his size in this league who can do what he does."
Battling Ngata in daily practices since 2007, Pro Bowl guard
And DeCosta agrees. Working for the Ravens since their inception in 1996, the now-assistant general manager has seen many dominant defensive performers don purple and black. Even so, he feels Ngata will be remembered as one of Charm City's all-time greats.
"He came here as we were moving into the third era of Baltimore Ravens defense," DeCosta said. "In my mind, Haloti goes down in Baltimore with some of the greatest defensive linemen we've ever had, and we've had a number of standout defensive linemen. He's right up there with all of them."
With the exhilarating ending of Super Bowl XLVII behind him and the euphoric post-game celebration ahead, Weidl found himself absorbing the special moment amidst a sea of confetti on the New Orleans Superdome field.
One of the things that captured his attention was that same player who caught his eye at a workout in 2006 –Ngata. Surrounded by loved ones, Ngata too was basking in the glory of being a Super Bowl champion. It was a sight that elicited strong emotions from Weidl, prompting him to snap a picture. That image will forever have profound meaning to him.
"The team's selection of Haloti is a real fond memory for me," Weidl reminisces. "It was my first year with the team and my first scouting the West Coast. The guys we pick are Ravens, and you love them – that's why you do it. I'll always remember Haloti's Pro Day workout. Seeing the kid from that day now celebrating a Super Bowl win with his sons on the field – that's special."
Special, just like the Ravens always believed Haloti Ngata would be.