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Ravens DT Ngata takes humble route to greatness

No one would blame Haloti Ngata if he talked trash on Sundays and bragged about his accomplishments for the rest of the week.

The Baltimore Ravens' 6-foot-4, 350-pound defensive tackle is equally adept at stopping the run and stalking quarterbacks. He can also drop back into coverage and occasionally plays fullback on offense.

Yet boasting is not Ngata's style.

"He has a gift of his humility," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "His talent speaks for itself. People just love playing with him because of the type of person he is."

Ngata credits his success to hard work and attributes his unassuming demeanor to his parents.

"My dad had three jobs and my mom just focused on us kids," Ngata said. "My dad pushed it on us to always be humble, never to put anyone above you or below you. I've always kind of been like that. It's been great for me. That's helped me out throughout my life."

Drafted with the 12th overall pick by the Ravens in 2006, Ngata started all 16 games as a rookie and has improved each season. He made the Pro Bowl for the first time last year.

He currently ranks second on the team behind Lewis in tackles and has two of Baltimore's seven sacks.

"He's a force to handle," said Denver quarterback Kyle Orton, who will face the Ravens on Sunday.

"Ngata is playing as good as any defensive lineman in football. There's no question about it," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "We certainly have to be mindful of how we're trying to handle him, how we're trying to block him, not only in the running game but in pass protection because he's shown to be disruptive in both phases."

Ngata's assets are strength, quickness and savvy. If he can't knock down an offensive lineman or squeeze past him, then Ngata will figure out another way to make a tackle.

"You don't find guys that size that can move like he can move," Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said.

Mattison said Ngata has great pride and is tremendously intelligent.

"What he allows us to do is move him around and play different positions without changing everything. He gets it," Mattison said.

For the most part, Ngata's job is to push aside offensive linemen so that Lewis will be free to make the tackle from his middle linebacker position. Lately, however, Ngata has been removing linemen from the play and making some of those tackles himself.

It's not selfish, but rather a necessity.

"I kind of figured out that linemen were getting off me faster to get to Ray," Ngata said. "I figured if they got off me faster, then I've got to make the play. If I can hold up those guys for Ray, that's great because he'll make a play every time. But if he's got a body on him, it's tough."

Before excelling in football at Oregon, Ngata led his high school rugby team in Utah to rugby national championship in three of his four years. He says some of the skills that he used then — conditioning, open-field tackling and the ability to find an open hole — are still useful today.

Left unsaid is how opponents dealt with trying to tackle a behemoth in a sport without pads.

"If I was a rugby player and I saw him coming at me, I wouldn't want any part of that," Mattison said.

All the punishment that Ngata inflicts on Sundays is taken on a daily basis by his teammates on the offensive line. Even in practice, Ngata is a handful.

"Obviously he's big and strong, but a lot of guys are big and strong. He's explosive," center Matt Birk said. "I think he understands the defense, understands his role, understands where he's supposed to be. This is my second year with him. I knew he was good coming in, but he gets more and more impressive every time I see him."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh credits Ngata as the driving force behind the NFL's second-ranked defense.

"Haloti Ngata is playing as well as any defensive player in the league right now," Harbaugh said. "I'm proud of him. It's not just that; he's a great guy. Nobody works harder, he's a good family man, he's just the kind of guy you root for, he's dominant."

Ngata will make millions of dollars before he retires, so there's really no reason for him to complete the 12 credits he needs to earn his degree from Oregon. But he intends to do the work this offseason.

"I definitely want to do it because it was important for my (late) mom. I want to do it for her," he said. "And my kids, I don't want them to look at me and say, 'Dad didn't get his degree. Why do I have to?' I'd rather them say, 'He's a professional athlete and he also got his degree from college.'"