Nate Ebner has brought a taste of Patriots football to USA Rugby.
The Patriots special teams player, who should be reporting to training camp, has been excused to play in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
“From everything you hear about the Patriots environment, I think he embodies that in so many ways with his work ethic, his attitude, and his attention to detail,” US Rugby sevens captain Madison Hughes said in July. “I think those are some of the big traits you hear about guys on the Patriots team. That willingness to do the hard word and do what ever it takes prepare yourself as an athlete.”
Hughes added: “He’s helped us create an even more professional environment with what we’re trying to do here.”
Ebner will play for the first-ever USA Olympic rugby sevens team, as sevens had not been an Olympic sport until the Rio games. He started playing the sport as a child after watching his father play. Days before his father died in a robbery, the two discussed Ebner’s desire to play football at Ohio State. According to The Boston Globe, his father told him to drop rugby and go all-in on football.
Ebner walked onto the Buckeyes team and contributed as a special teams player. And after four years with the Patriots, he’s returned to rugby with a Patriot mentality.
“I think the mentality that Nate has, you know you’ve got to be a little bit off,” special teams player Matthew Slater said during training camp. “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.”
That’s the mentality he’s bringing to Rio. Hughes noted, however, that the overlap between the sports goes beyond mentality. Ebner’s talent in football special team applies to defense on the rugby pitch.
“In football, I think he’s doing a lot of open field tackling, especially on punt returns,” Hughes said. “And I think, you’re operating within a defensive system and you’re making tackles in that. So defensively, I think that’s reasonably similar. We obviously have our own structures and our own systems, which would vary from what you do in football.”
Ebner brought rugby to the NFL, too. He performed a rugby-style drop kick for a onside kick in the Patriots-Eagles matchup during Week 13 of the 2015 season. The Patriots were unable to recover the kick, and the Eagles quickly scored. They went on to win, 35-28.
But his rugby teammates haven’t made fun of him for the kick.
“I think the kick itself was pretty good,” Hughes said. “I just think it went a bit too far. And yeah, I don’t know if it’s perfectly suited. He’s not really doing any drop kicking for us. It was pretty cool to see that in a football game. Obviously, it didn’t work out, but it was cool that someone was willing to try it.”