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UO tackle Haloti Ngata tries to get past tragedy and focus on football

EUGENE Ñ As defensive tackle Haloti Ngata goes through spring drills, he misses seeing his father, who often flew in from Salt Lake City to attend practices.

Ngata's world hasn't been the same since Solomone Ngata was killed Dec. 11. The elder Ngata's truck slid off a Utah highway and into a ditch.

Haloti Ngata, surrounded by supportive teammates and coaches, continued to practice for the Seattle Bowl. About 50 family members were on hand to see him play in the Dec. 30 game, but for the first time, his father wasn't there.

'I just want to get a degree for him,' Ngata says. 'I'm trying to work really hard for him in school. My dad stressed it. He wanted me to get a degree because he never graduated from high school and never went to college.

'He wanted me to get an education to have a better life.'

Ngata says his mother, Olga, hasn't been the same since his father died. She used to visit him in Eugene and make kalua pig (shredded pork), chop suey, spinach and corned beef for Ngata and his Polynesian teammates. They would eat at the home of Ngata's Mormon bishop.

'She still visits, but she feels sick and doesn't feel that strong anymore,' Ngata says. 'She feels really weak. She gets off work, goes home and stays home.'

The 6-4, 335-pound Ngata, one of UO's most highly touted recruits, chose to play football for the Ducks for many reasons, including the opportunity to play alongside other Polynesian players he had met on the recruiting trail.

All five Ñ Ngata, Junior Siavii, Chris Solomona, Matt Toeaina (his roommate) and Enoka Lucas Ñ will be eligible to play this year. Siavii and Solomona will be on the defensive line. Redshirt freshmen Toeaina, a defensive end, and Lucas, an offensive lineman, might see action, as well.

'I'm happy to play with them,' says Ngata, 19, who will be a sophomore this fall. 'With Chris on my left side, it's fun, he's like another brother. I think he'll make a big impact.'

The camaraderie has helped soften the loss for the introverted Ngata. 'Matt had his brother die, so he went through the same thing I did. He related to me,' Ngata says.

Ngata, a brute of a player, is quick enough to get around blockers, slap away kicks and knock down quarterbacks. With his immense strength, he became unblockable at times.

He chose not to go on a two-year Mormon mission after consulting with his mother and father. Instead, he has his sights set on the NFL.

'I felt like it would be better for me to stay here,' he says. 'If I go and come back, I wouldn't be the same. I would lose the edge, maybe get overweight. I wouldn't have been able to come back and play as a defensive lineman.

'My dad gave me a blessing, but my mom was upset about it,' Ngata says. 'She realized, though, that I could probably play and go to the 'league.' And she thinks I can also show more by being a famous Mormon person.'

Notes: Freshman Jordan Carey, a receiver targeted for duty returning kickoffs and punts, could miss the rest of spring drills with a high ankle sprain.