"Good boy, son. Good boy," he said.
"My dad was crazy at games," says Ame Ngata. "He could be so loud. His famous saying was always, `That's my son!'"
She's No. 1
But at the heart of things, Haloti Ngata was, and still is, a mama's boy. Quiet, polite, soft-spoken and kind, he would do whatever Olga asked, whenever she asked it, without complaint.
"He would never do anything to discourage her or distress her," says Olga Ngata's sister, Ema Fuatapu. "She was the No. 1 woman in his life from Day One."
Ngata was known as the "perfect one" in his family, and his siblings ribbed him about it constantly. While his older brothers ran wild, terrorizing the neighborhood, spray-painting graffiti on buildings from block to block, Ngata was usually at home, sleeping.
"It was kind of funny because my brothers would tag all over our neighborhood, and then my mom and her neighborhood watch group would be the ones painting over their stuff the next day," says Haloti Ngata. "It was funny but sad at the same time, I guess."
When she wasn't working with the neighborhood watch group, Olga Ngata could be found running Parent Teacher Association meetings (she was the president), organizing volunteer trash pickups on the highway or putting together dance lessons or pageants at her church. She wanted her neighborhood to feel as safe and as welcome as her home, and she did not like sitting still for very long.
"She was a real loving, emotional mother," says Haloti Ngata. "She put her heart and mind into everything, especially that neighborhood watch thing. Whatever she did, she worked hard at."
Ngata learned to trust her judgment above all others, so when it came time to pick a college, her final blessing was essential. As a high school All-American, he was torn.
He could go anywhere in the country, he could pick up the phone (which never seemed to stop ringing his senior year) and make any coach's day with a simple "yes," but there was tremendous pressure for him to attend Brigham Young University. In his heart, he was leaning toward the University of Oregon, but he also knew he couldn't go there against his mother's wishes.
Answer in dream
As decision time drew closer, Olga Ngata had a dream. In the dream, she saw a red brick building and a bridge crossing some water. When she told her husband what she'd seen, Solomone was stunned. That's Oregon's campus you're describing, he said. You need to go and see the place, Olga. Right away.
When she arrived in Eugene for the first time, she realized, according to her family, what it meant. God was giving her a sign. This was the right place for her son Haloti. Without question, this was it.
It happened early in the morning, on a cold day in December 2002. Solomone Ngata - who had attended every one of his son's football games (both home and away) during Haloti's stellar freshman year at Oregon - was driving a truck for Metro Waste, a company that had employed him for the past two years.
The roads were icy and, while trying to climb the on-ramp to Interstate 80 from Route 215 just outside Salt Lake City, Solomone Ngata's rig slid off the road, flipped several times and landed upside down in a canal full of water. Rescue workers tried to save him, but ultimately, they could not. He was 45.
"The actual cause of death was drowning," says Haloti Moala, his eyes welling up with tears. "They found mud in his lungs during the autopsy. There were people who got there and tried to get him out, but they couldn't get his seatbelt off. They tried to move the mud so he could breathe, but every time they moved it, the mud slid right back toward him. He was my best friend, and not a day goes by that I don't think about him."