FOXBORO, Mass. — Matthew Slater’s primary objective this week is being as prepared as possible for New England Patriots training camp, the first practice of which is scheduled for Thursday morning at Gillette Stadium.
But the Patriots’ special teams captain also has another item on his to-do list.
“I’m just trying to figure out where I can get my (Nate) Ebner rugby jersey,” Slater said Wednesday.
Ebner, who, like Slater, has spent the last several years as a core special teamer for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, earlier this month was selected to the United States rugby sevens team that will compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The selection was the culmination of a four-month process for Ebner, who received the Patriots’ blessing in March to pursue his Olympic dream.
Now, as the rest of his New England teammates reconvene for camp, Ebner is going through his final preparations for the first-ever Olympic rugby sevens tournament, which begins Aug. 9 in Rio and runs through Aug. 11. The U.S. will take on Argentina, Brazil and gold medal favorite Fiji in the opening round, and plenty of folks in Foxboro surely will be glued to their TVs during those matches.
“I’ve had several conversations with Nate, several phone calls,” Slater said. “As I said (in the spring), I’m just so happy for him. And I know why rugby means so much to him. Many of us are familiar with the situation with his father. His father obviously introduced him to the game of (rugby), so that connection with father and son is bigger than sport itself. I know this means a great deal to him, and we’re all excited for him. …
“I’ll be supporting him and watching him along the way.”
Ebner, the only active NFL player set to compete in Rio, likely will come off the bench for the U.S., which placed sixth in each of the last two HSBC Sevens World Series and is a legitimate medal contender. In a way, that’s not too different from his role on the Patriots, who occasionally play the 27-year-old at his listed position of safety but primarily utilize him in the kicking game.
“You know, you?ve got to be a little bit off (to excel on special teams),” Slater said. “And come game day, Nate finds a way to get himself ready to go and compete, and he?s not afraid to compete no matter who it is.”
Ebner, who was placed on the exempt list to free up a roster spot in his absence, will rejoin the Patriots after the Olympics conclude.
“We?re pulling for him to bring back something around his neck,” Belichick said.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images