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Former age-grade and Ohio State standout Nate Ebner is making his return to rugby. The New England Patriot recently re-upped with the Pats, who will allow him to pursue selection for Team USA at the Rio Olympics. He has been granted a leave of absence and is set to being training with the Eagles at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
"First and foremost, I want to thank the Patriots from top to bottom for giving me the opportunity to come back and play for a truly first-class organization," Ebner said.
"I also want to thank them and USA Rugby for giving me the opportunity to chase a dream I've had since I was a boy in a sport in which I've 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 our country to the best of my ability. Thanks again and Go Pats and go USA."
Ebner's story is well-known thorughout the American rugby community. He played rugby exclusively in high school and his first two years of college before walking onto the Ohio State football team, helping the Buckeyes to Big Ten title in 2009. He became a special teams star and was selected by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He's been with them ever since, winning Super XLIX.
He's stayed closely connected to the rugby community in that time, keeping a relationship with the Tiger Rugby Academy in Columbus, Ohio.
While he participated in age-grade national teams, Ebner's most well-known rugby performance is probably at the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championships. He starred for the Buckeyes in the inaugural tournament in 2010.
Though Ebner certainly has the pedigree and athletic ability to make the team, he won't be given any preferential treatment by the Eagle management staff.
“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.”
"We are excited and looking forward to Nate joining the program and working with the squad,” added 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."