NFL star Nate Ebner has been released by his team, the Patriots, to play for the USA Sevens team at this year's Olympics.
Fresh off of signing a new two-year contract extension with the New England Patriots, special teams standout Ebner has also declared his intentions to play in the 2016 Olympics as a member of USA Rugby.
The Patriots will keep Ebner under contract while he trains with the Men’s Sevens program at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA.
Ebner, a Super Bowl XLIX Champion, would not be new to the United States’ national rugby Sevens program, having been a part of the team at the young age of 17.
A high school rugby star, Ebner never played football during his time at Hilliard Davidson High of Ohio. He would go on to play for the USA Rugby U19 and U20 National Teams, taking team MVP in the 2007 U19 Junior World Championship in 2007 and the U20 Junior World Championship in 2008.
"We are excited and looking forward to Nate joining the program and working with the squad,” said USA Rugby Men’s Sevens head coach Mike Friday.
“We are aware of Nate's rugby background from his high school and college days and this was the key to him being in a position to compete with the current squad. He is in great shape and we will be able to condition him over the next 6 to 8 weeks to be more aligned with rugby and work with him to get him up to speed on his skills and tactical understanding."
Nate Ebner played rugby at Ohio State during his freshman and sophomore year before earning a spot as a walk-on with the Ohio State Football Team as a junior. Despite not having played football previously, Ebner was quickly recognized as one of, if not the team’s best special teams player. He would later earn a scholarship in his senior year and was voted the team’s most inspirational player at the end of the 2011 season. In the 2012 NFL Draft, Ebner was selected by the New England Patriots in the sixth round.
“Nate was a skilled, tough leader as he progressed through our National age-grade teams,” said USA Rugby Performance Director Alex Magleby.
“His performances at the College Rugby Championship for Ohio State showed his talent, and anyone who watches the NFL can see his athleticism and work-ethic on display for the Patriots.
“He will be up against it in an already competitive player pool for Rio, but knowing Nate, he will relish in that challenge and will work hard to bring out the best in himself and his U.S. teammates.”
Despite reaching the NFL, Ebner stayed in touch with Magleby and the US rugby community throughout the years. With the Olympic games in sight, Ebner and Magleby have continued to look at possible plans to get him back on the the rugby pitch. Ebner has trained with Paul Holmes, National Academy Director forTiger Rugby of the USA Rugby Olympic Development Academy network.
“First and foremost, I want to say thank you to the Patriots from top to bottom for allowing me to come back and play for a truly first class organization,” said Ebner.
“I also want to thank them and USA Rugby for giving me the opportunity to chase a dream I have had since I was a boy, in a sport in which I have always had a passion.
“I can’t put into words how much this opportunity means to not only me, but my friends and family as well. I plan to represent the Patriots and my country to the best of my ability. Thanks again, Go Pats and Go Team USA!”
USA Rugby thanked the Patriots front office and coaching staff for allowing Ebner to compete alongside the Men’s Eagles Sevens and attempt to make the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
“We are grateful for the support of coach Bill Belichick and the entire New England Patriots staff for their support of USA Rugby and Team USA,” said Magleby.