Patriots Safety Chases Olympic Dream

Nate Ebner moved to Chula Vista for a shot at the U.S. Olympic Rugby team

The USA is the reigning Olympic Gold Medal champion in the sport of rugby. You might not remember the Americans’ stirring win over France to win the last rugby gold, seeing as how it happened in 1924.

This year in Rio, rugby returns and once again Team USA has a chance to win the gold. They might be helped by a man who owns another iconic bit of championship jewelry.

Among the athletes hoping to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Rugby team at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista is a 6-foot, 220-pounder named Nate Ebner. He grew up in Ohio playing a whole lot of rugby.

“I played in three Junior World Cups,” said Ebner. “Dubai, Ireland and Wales.”

The Columbus native went to Ohio State to play rugby because … well, that’s simple.

“I just wanted to go to Ohio State. Growing up in central Ohio everyone kind of wants to go to Ohio State.”

Along the way he caught the eye of the football coaching staff. In his junior year, Ebner walked onto the football field and put on a helmet for the first time in his life and made the team. His rugby skills transferred perfectly to the gridiron.

“The contact,” said Ebner. “You’ve got to be strong in the contact area. And, the explosiveness that players show, bursts of speed when they’re running the ball.”

The New England Patriots liked Ebner enough to take him in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Ebner became a key special teams player and worked his way in to the safety rotation. Ebner just re-signed a 2-year, $2.4 million contract with the Pats. But he loves his rugby roots, so he decided to chase his Olympic dream.

“I figured, why not, man? You’ve only got one chance to do something like this. It’s definitely once in a lifetime, for me anyway. I think I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t try.”

That means he would have to get permission from the Patriots and notorious curmudgeon Bill Belichick.

“It was a lot of good conversations, a lot of understanding of where I’m coming from and realizing the opportunity is once in a lifetime.”

So the Pats gave their blessing, even though Ebner will have to miss part of training camp if he makes the Olympic team. Having a current NFL player on the roster will likely bring new viewers to rugby.

“If my story helps bring more attention to it then, you know, the more the merrier.”

Ebner won a Super Bowl ring with the Pats two years ago. But if he ends up with an Olympic medal, which one would get top spot in his trophy case? Not even he’s sure yet.

“I do know it would probably be a humbling, amazing experience that I would never forget,” says Ebner. “If that does happen in the future, maybe I can answer that for you then.”

At worst he’ll have bragging rights over Tom Brady, and don’t think the Ohio State alum will not hold that over the Michigan man.

Ebner’s first rugby competition since 2012 will be next week when he takes part in a tournament in Hong Kong.

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