The Patriots' sixth-round draft pick was initially met with the lice effect, as many in the NFL universe scratched their heads while trying to figure out Ebner's deal.
He was listed as an Ohio State safety, but he only played three snaps on defense last season. And his biography had more impressive details about his rugby career than anything he's done in football.
On paper, the pick didn't make any sense. Then, his rugby highlight video surfaced. After that, he met the New England media, and his passion and personality revealed a genuine, dedicated athlete.
Paul Haynes backed it up. Haynes, who is currently Arkansas' defensive coordinator, worked closely with Ebner throughout his career at Ohio State. Haynes was the Buckeyes' co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, and he had a couple of mutual connections with Ebner before he walked onto the team. The former rugby star didn't have an ounce of organized football experience to his name.
"He has a passion for being great," Haynes told NESN.com Tuesday.
Ebner's father was murdered during a robbery in 2008, and the horrific event changed Ebner's on-field work ethic, Haynes said.
"His work ethic, his passion to be great — you knew by any means necessary, he was going to go out there and make a play for you on special teams," Haynes said. "The only reason he probably did not play safety for us was just his lack of knowledge of playing [defensive back]. He was full steam ahead. He was just a downhill player, but you knew on kickoffs, on punts, he was going to be the first guy down there to make the tackle. You banked on it. You counted on it. It was going to happen. Ebner was going to make the play.
"He was one of the most fun kids that I've ever coached, still to this day, because you just knew he was going to give it his all. He just has so much confidence in himself to get it done. He's going to get it done on that level."
Then, Haynes dropped the most eye-opening bomb.
"He was probably the most valuable player on that whole team, the most valuable player on that whole team last year," Haynes said passionately. "If there was a guy that we were going to go down with, it would have been Nate Ebner by far. There isn't a coach on that staff who wouldn't say that."
Ebner earned the nickname, "Leonidas," a Greek hero who was portrayed by Gerard Butler in the movie 300, because of his intense workout regimen, as well as his beard. And every night before bed during Ohio State's football camps, Ebner forced his roommates to do an insufferable amount of pushups, an act that took on a life of its own with the team.
How many did Ebner do?
"Maybe 5,000," Haynes laughed.
To clarify, Haynes said he was just throwing a number out there, but with the stories that have emerged about Ebner, that amount of pushups doesn't sound completely inconceivable anymore. Insane. But not inconceivable.
"That's just his work ethic. It's out the roof," Haynes said. "You know what? I don't know if it's 5,000, but all the kids had a joke about it."
Ebner will have to cut his teeth as a special teamer in the NFL, but with his intensity in the nasty side of the game, it should be a good fit for him, particularly with his skills in the open field. Ebner might get a chance on defense in a few years, but he'll have to learn the mental aspect of that side of the ball first.
"Here's the thing about Ebner, I don't think the kid can't do anything," Haynes said. "If you put him in that position, and you tell him, 'Hey, I want you to get good at this,' I think he'll be out there until the freaking sun goes down to get better at it. That's the kind of respect that I have for him, and I wouldn't say that about a lot of guys. I really wouldn't."
Ebner, who was drafted Saturday, hasn't even been a Patriot for a week, but he has already been one of their most heavily discussed draft picks. The tone of those conversations has been fun, and there's a lot of anticipation to watch him play during training camp.
Haynes was as excited as anyone. He didn't think Ebner would get drafted, let alone in the sixth round, but Haynes was convinced Ebner would be successful once he linked up with a team. Ebner has always been a coach's dream, and that was part of the reason why Belichick targeted him earlier than anyone expected.
"He's a great kid, man," Haynes said. "You guys will love him. You can't go wrong with him. You can't go wrong with Ebner."
Photo via Facebook/Nate Ebner Fans
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