Haloti Ngata's charitable foundation will benefit from a massive amount of support the Salt Lake City native recently received on social media.
With the help of Ngata's active fanbase, the Highland High alumnus and NFL standout won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Challenge and will receive $25,000 for his charity, the league announced Thursday.
This social media challenge was a fun way for the NFL to spread word about its annual Man of the Year contest and to give publicity to the philanthropic efforts of nominees from each team.
Ngata, former Utah star quarterback Alex Smith and 30 others remain in the running for the charity-driven Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. This honor was created to recognize athletes who do well on the gridiron and who do good around the community. Winners will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars for their charities.
Ngata and Smith have both had a lot of success on the field during their NFL careers, but what they do off the field could have a much longer-lasting impact.
Here’s why they were nominated:
Ngata’s parents passed away unexpectedly before his NFL career began, but the Salt Lake City native continues to act in a manner that honors their legacies through his family foundation that helps high school students prepare for college.
“My mother Ofa had a vision. It was to change the lives of young students by helping them attend college. It started with me,” Ngata, who attended the University of Oregon after his mom helped him pass the ACT test that he failed multiple times, said in a video created by the NFL. “She organized an ACT prep course to help me pass the test and begin my journey. I’m honored to say that we are carrying her vision forward and building on it.”
The Ofa Ngata College Preparation Program, created by Haloti and his wife, has assisted 600-plus students in six schools (including his alma mater and East High) in two states by providing free college entrance exam prep courses, according to NFL.com. Three new schools will be added by the end of this school year, increasing the program’s reach to more than 1,000 students.
“I see these ACT prep classes not just as preparing kids for a test,” East High principal Greg Maughan said. “It’s preparing them for additional things that they’ll be exposed to in life.”
The principal noted that the score isn’t necessarily what counts most. Rather, it’s the qualities, skills, preparation strategies and learning how to deal with anticipation and performing with butterflies in their stomachs that is invaluable to their futures.
Ngata raises money for this project through an annual luau. The Haloti Ngata Family Foundation has also made large donations to The Johns Hopkins Diabetes Research Center ($50,000) and other worthy causes. The Ngatas’ annual donation of $10,000 to the Utah chapter of the National Football Foundation helps pay for five college scholarships.
The Alex Smith Foundation aims to uplift foster care communities in Kansas City and California by providing foster teens with valuable tools and resources to transition into adulthood.
Smith became devoted to improving the lives of foster kids when he spoke to them at about the same time he was playing so well for the Utes. One conversation with high school seniors — and the answers to the question, “What’s next?” — opened his eyes to the need to help out.
“The stark reality of these kids’ answers is they had no idea,” Smith recalled in his NFL-produced video. “Literally a couple of them were telling me that when they graduated, because they were already 18, they were going to get dropped off at the men’s shelter. I just remember being floored by this reality. I couldn’t believe that we did this, and I wanted to get involved. I wanted to give these kids the chance that I had if I could do that.”
Since then, his Guardian Scholars program has helped 23 former youths attend San Diego State with a 78 percent graduation rate, compared to the national rate of 3 percent for foster youths. The college replicated the program and helped produce another 205 foster graduates.
Four winners of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award will have between $100,000 and $500,000 donated to a charity of their choice along with a similar donation in their names to the NFL’s Character Playbook charity. All of the other nominees’ charities will receive $50,000.
Ngata’s fans were quite active in his favor in the Nationwide-sponsored Charity challenge, which is why your Twitter and Instagram feeds might have been inundated with the #WPMOFTY hashtags. His supporters pushed him ahead of the Panthers’ Greg Olsen — who got some help from William Shatner — at the top of the latest Charity Challenge standings heading into the final stretch. Voting ended Sunday night.
Past winners of the Man of the Year award include Johnny Unitas (1970), Lynn Swann (1981), John Elway (1992), Jerome Bettis (2001), and Payton and Eli Manning (2005, 2016). Bart Starr won the Gladiator Award, the precursor to the Man of the Year award, in 1970. It’s honored the late Walter Payton since the Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back died in 1999.