The debate is never ending with this jovial pair, the banter fierce and genuine.
Who’s the better prospect? Who’s better looking? The better dancer? Who’s faster?
When asked about their quickness, brothers Daniyel and Joseph Ngata walked over each other’s words.
“I am!” one said, followed by subsequent back-and-forth of, “I am! I am! I am!”
But this much is undisputed for the Folsom High School football stars: They’re always pulling for each other and are nearly inseparable. When one scores a touchdown, the other starts the sideline celebration. When one starts a postgame dance in the locker room, the other joins. On Friday, they’re hoping to cap the season with one last “Ngata Boogie”.
Folsom (15-0) seeks its third CIF State title since 2010 when it faces Helix of La Mesa (13-1) for the Division I-AA championship at Sacramento State.
The brothers’ effort, desire and talent combined with the Bulldogs’ success has put them in the spotlight, drawing interest from colleges nationwide, but also unwanted attention of those casting doubt on the legitimacy of their journey from Reno to Folsom. They bristle at the notion they were recruited to their high school.
Joseph says with conviction, “We don’t cheat.”
So, who’s faster?
Daniyel, compact and muscled at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, is a sophomore who leads the Bulldogs in rushing and makes plays as a receiver, a blocker and on special teams. He is the team’s most versatile player.
Joseph, powerfully built with speed to match at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, is a junior with soft hands that latch onto footballs in the tightest of coverage. He’s attracted interest from the Pacific-12 Conference and beyond.
“Washington, USC, (Washington State), UCLA, Colorado, Oregon, Cal, (Oregon State), Notre Dame, Penn State,” Joseph said of some of his scholarship offers.
Daniyel also has Pac-12 interest, including an offer from Utah, and figures to add more his junior season, which is considered one of the most important times for college prospects.
College scouts who caught the Ngata act at Granite Bay this fall nodded in approval at what they saw. In three plays, the brothers passed the look test.
When Joseph took a sweep handoff 80 yards for a touchdown, he was led by Daniyel, who cleared the way with downfield blocks. When quarterback Kaiden Bennett sprinted 75 yards for a touchdown, there was Daniyel again, blasting cornerbacks and safeties out of the way some 50 yards downfield.
Joseph has 76 receptions for 1,681 yards and 25 touchdowns, and he earns style points for the way he catches the ball. Said Del Campo coach Mike Dimino, “He’s the best receiver I’ve ever seen in my 30 years coaching around here.”
But every championship outfit needs someone to do the grunt work. That’s Daniyel, who has rushed for 823 yards and 10 scores, has 34 catches for 364 yards and four touchdowns, and has 188 kickoff return yards.
“I love the dirty work,” Daniyel said.
So, again, who’s faster?
“I wonder that, too,” said their father, Ray Ngata, with a laugh. “I have tried to get them to run a 40- or 60-yard dash, but they keep avoiding it. No one wants to admit the other one is faster. I just know they keep me in shape. We go to the track and go 10 laps, all of us. They push me.”
That last comment is telling. In an era of pushy parents who drive their kids to excel in athletics, the Ngata family offers a different tone. Ray Ngata doesn’t live his sporting life vicariously through his sons. He’s as opposite of LaVar Ball as you can get. Ray stays out of the public eye; this is the only interview he has done. He doesn’t challenge the coaching of his sons. But he does expect full effort in their studies and in football.
“Great kids, great parents,” Folsom coach Kris Richardson said. “The boys are so respectful, so hard-working, and they’re great talents. Daniyel is the happiest kid you’ll ever meet. Joe is more serious, but together, they’re hilarious.”
Soccer and Reno roots
Ray Ngata grew up in Cameroon, a country in central Africa, and he dreamed of earning a living on the soccer pitch.
Ray would realize academics were his ticket instead. In his late 20s, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he earned degrees in business administration and economics at University of District of the Columbia. He moved with wife Patricia to Reno in pursuit of a career in human services.
Ray played recreational soccer into his 40s and would have been fine with his sons pursuing the same passion. But the boys have always been independent thinkers, and by the time Ariel, the oldest son, was in middle school, he was ready to play a different sport. His brothers wanted to follow suit.
“So I let the boys do the research on where they might want to go to school and play high school football,” Ray said. “Originally, they liked Allen High in Texas, which was big time, the No. 1 team in the country. But that’s not realistic here. We’re not going to be driving back and forth to Texas.
“We told the boys as parents that the objective here is to get a high school diploma, to get into college, to get one degree, minimum. No dropping out. No getting a job instead. I made a vow that as long as you boys accept the deal, we’ll do anything in our capacity to see that you get into college and play college football.”
Ariel earned a football scholarship from Washington, where he redshirted as a freshman linebacker this season.
“The Ngata brothers are talented athletes,” Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said. “You can tell they have a soccer background. They always seem to know how to run comfortably at full speed in traffic. Joe is as NFL ready as a high school player I have seen since Jonah Williams,” the former Folsom star and an All-America left tackle at Alabama this season.
While playing youth football tournaments in Sacramento, the Ngata brothers caught wind of regional powers Folsom and Grant. The boys told their father they wanted to check out Folsom. And that’s where rumors started.
‘We’ve done everything right’
Throughout these football playoffs, social media threads filled with voices insisting that Folsom football coaches, headed by Richardson, recruited the Ngata brothers and quarterback Bennett, also a Reno native.
“Just ridiculous some of the things being said,” said Richardson, adding that the Bulldogs lose more starters via transfer than they gain. “We hear it. We see it. But I’ve never been to Reno to look at players. I’m trying to survive here as a father, a husband, a teacher and a coach. It’s today’s world, where people poke holes at success. For those who challenge us and think we’re cheating, if you want to schedule a meeting, I’m here on campus every day. Got a complaint? Come see me.”
The Sac-Joaquin Section office, the governing body for prep sports in this region, found no evidence of wrongdoing. Ariel Ngata entered Folsom as an incoming sophomore and didn’t play football until his junior year. The younger Ngata brothers and Bennett have only attended one high school: Folsom.
Ray lives in Reno and commutes to Folsom for football weekends. His sons live with their mother and grandmother during the week near the school, which is counter to the rumor that they live in a party house full of transfer players, or at a hotel as a loophole to residential eligibility.
“The rumors,” Ray said, “totally bogus. We could have gone to Texas. No one recruited us. We decided on Folsom because it’s two hours away from Reno, and it’s a great school. I did my research, too. We never met Coach Richardson until we found him on campus, and he said we need to get an application to enroll. He later told us that, ‘Here at Folsom, the best players play.’ Guess what the boys’ reaction was? They jumped. They were excited. They wanted a great challenge, and they’re still living it.”
Daniyel and Joe said they are proud of their roots, that they are Reno raised and Folsom Bulldogs groomed.
“Yes, we’re from Reno!” Joseph said emphatically, laced with laughter. “We’ve done everything right.”
They’ve earned their place at Folsom, Ray said.
“I tell them that they are lions. Lions protect themselves. And when lions roar, all the animals that can become prey change direction,” he said. “So as a lion, make it happen. They’ve made it happen.”
And the lions are ready to feast.
“We want to win the last game,” Daniyel said.
CIF State football championships
Open: Mater Dei vs. De La Salle at Sacramento State, Saturday, 8 p.m.
I-AA: Folsom vs. Helix at Sacramento State, Friday, 8 p.m.
I-A: Pittsburgh vs. Narbonne at Sacramento State, Saturday, 4 p.m.
II-AA: Cajon vs. Serra at Sacramento State, Friday, 4 p.m.
II-A: Grace Brethren vs. Saint Francis at Sacramento State, Saturday, Noon
III-AA: Bishop Diego vs. Shasta at Cal Lutheran, Saturday, 6 p.m.
III-A: Half Moon Bay vs. Steele Canyon at Southwestern College, Saturday, 6 p.m.
IV-AA: Placer at Crenshaw, Saturday, 6 p.m.
IV-A: Milpitas at Southwest-El Centro, Saturday, 6 p.m.
V-AA: Golden West vs. McClymonds at Visalia Community Stadium, Saturday, 6 p.m.
V-A: Katella vs. Fortuna at Glover Stadium, Saturday, 6 p.m.
VI-AA: Orange vs. Strathmore at El Modena High, Saturday, 6 p.m.
VI-A: Vincent Memorial vs. Galileo at Calexico High, Saturday, 6 p.m.