Nate Ebner is taking a very unique approach to the NFL offseason.
Ebner, who recently signed a two-year contract with the New England Patriots, will be training in Chula Vista, Calif., in the hopes of making the United States national rugby sevens team. He’s taking a leave from the Patriots, and he would miss the beginning of training camp and preseason if he makes the Rio 2016 Olympic team.
Ebner played on the U.S. national rugby team in high school and college before shifting his focus to football.
“I am absolutely not guaranteed a spot,” Ebner said in a conference call with the media Tuesday. “I have to try out for the team like anybody else. I will be training — right now there’s the Olympic training facility in Chula Vista, and that’s kind of where they’re stationed at and that’s where, for now, my training will take place.
“Whatever they have me partake in going forward, whether it be part of the rest of the HSBC World Series, if I have to do that at some point, or in camps. Eventually down the line, they’ll narrow the team, not sure about the numbers, but I have to earn a spot like anybody else. We’ll see how that goes. I’m lucky to even have the opportunity to go to trial.”
Ebner first had to receive the OK from the Patriots, including head coach Bill Belichick.
“Obviously, I had private conversations with a lot of coaches and people with the Patriots,” Ebner said. “I’m going to keep those private conversations private, but really at the end of the day, I think Bill understands rugby’s a passion of mine and that’s where my background lies. I expressed my desire to chase the Olympic dream in the sport that I love and grew up playing. At the end of the day, I have the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to working really hard to see if I can make that come true.”
Rugby union was dropped as an Olympic sport after the 1924 games in Paris. The International Olympic Committee voted in 2009 to include rugby sevens in the 2016 games.
“To not only play for my country but to represent them in the Olympics at the highest level, that’s something I can’t put into words,” Ebner said. “What a unique opportunity, and it would just be unlike something I’ve ever experienced. I don’t even really have words for that. It would just be such an amazing opportunity as I could imagine, such a humbling experience that I would never forget for the rest of my life.”
Ebner, who played just two years of college football at Ohio State, has 47 career tackles in four seasons with the Patriots as a safety/special-teams ace.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Nov 23, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; Buffalo Bills kick returner Denarius Moore (17) hangs onto the ball after being hit by New England Patriots defensive back Nate Ebner (43) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports