During his first-ever essay contest to raise awareness for Juvenile Diabetes, Haloti Ngata received around 500 entries that piled up into a daunting mountain. Each one had to be read and eventually whittled down into three winners.
Reflecting on the process that enabled an elementary school, middle school and high school student to take home $100 and an autographed Ravens jersey, Ngata still doesn't think he's done enough.
"This is our first year trying the essay contest, and I think we can do more with it to grow the project into some other school districts, maybe in other states," he said.
Ngata became a spokesman for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation before last season began. In what he thought was a good way to get kids to learn more about the disease, Ngata's challenge was to write a 400- to 500-word proposal about what students would do to promote the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes campaign.
Ngata tapped schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Frederick, Carroll, and Harford Counties to send in their thoughts, and the reaction was more than he hoped.
"There were so many, it was hard to pick the favorites,"' said the Salt Lake City native.
In the end, Ngata was able to select three lucky - and innovative - students that won the personal cash prize, along with $400 to their classroom to implement the project, $500 for their school and an opportunity to tour the Ravens' locker room.
The winners were Patrick Georgie from Urbana High School, Chontel Bevans from Deer Park Middle Magnet School and Bushy Park Elementary's Jessica Alder.
"I'm just trying to help people be aware of this disease and get information about it out there," Ngata said. "It's a small way to start, but I think it was successful."
To him, the best part of the contest was seeing how extensively the students researched diabetes, such as Georgie, whom Ngata said had a friend with the disease, or Alder, a diabetes patient who came up with an idea to help others empathize with her situation.
"Jessica actually had diabetes, so that really hit home," he said. "She has to poke herself with a needle every day, so she thought you could give kids something like a juice drink and a rubber band. When they drank the drink, they would have to snap their arm with the rubber band to know what she felt."
Bevans even created a "Diabetes Day" with a scavenger hunt that involved trivia questions that could lead to other clues.
Diabetes is a problem that hits home for the hulking 345-pound defensive tackle.
While still a college star at Oregon, Ngata's mother, Olga, suffered from diabetes and kidney disease. Less than a week after declaring for the 2006 NFL Draft, Olga passed away from a heart attack while undergoing dialysis.
This was also three years after his father, Solomone, a long-haul truck driver, died in a tragic trucking accident, when he hit a treacherous patch of ice during a run.
Such heart-wrenching events prompted Ngata to get involved, and if he has his way, that involvement will only deepen over time.
"It is an issue that we need to raise awareness about, and I like being able to help," Ngata explained.