PHOTO BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Nate Ebner of the New England Patriots represented the United States with the men’s rugby sevens team at last summer’s Olympics.
By HAROLD RIVERA
It isn’t often that an athlete gets the opportunity to represent his or her country in sports. Athletes represent themselves and their respective organizations every year. On the other hand, the Olympics take place once every four years and those selected to participate are a rare, and lucky, class.
Just ask New England Patriots special teamer Nate Ebner, who took a hiatus from his full-time job in Foxborough to represent the United States in rugby. Ebner, a 28-year-old Ohio native, was on the 2016 US rugby sevens team that participated in the summer Olympics in Brazil.
A year later, Ebner recalls the Olympic rugby experience as one of the more memorable ones in his sports career.
“To me, I’ll definitely remember this point in time as one of the better chances that I got to take for rugby,” Ebner said.
Although he’s built an impressive career as a reliable special teams player for the Patriots, Ebner didn’t take up football until he walked onto the team at Ohio State in his junior year. Ebner grew up playing rugby throughout his youth, a sport he learned from his father, the late Jeffrey Ebner.
From rugby, Ebner developed a sense of toughness that he still carries with him today on the gridiron.
“Rugby’s a tough game,” Ebner said. “That definitely correlates to football. Football has its tough moments as well. When you can go through what you go through on the rugby field, you can kind of handle anything you get on a football field. I think that toughness is a big translator.”
A two-time Super Bowl champion, Ebner also grasped a sense of what it takes to be a teammate from his days playing rugby. The chemistry and camaraderie built within a rugby team, Ebner said, is similar to that in football.
“The camaraderie you have on the rugby field with your teammates is unlike anything,” Ebner said. “It prepares you for any locker room situation you might come across in playing football. There are a lot of things, I can say, that translate between the two sports.”
Although the United States fell short in its quest to bring home an Olympic gold medal, as the Eagles finished ninth in the final standings, Ebner still feels a sense of pride in what the team was able to accomplish off the field.
Rugby is currently one of the faster growing sports across the country, meaning there are plenty of aspiring athletes who are following in Ebner’s footsteps.
“I think that’s phenomenal, that I could influence anybody to take up rugby or play more than one sport,” Ebner said. “There’s no limit to what you can do. That’s a blessing, to have that kind of impact in someone’s life.”
Ebner added, “If I had any advice to give to somebody it would be to not hesitate and go out and play. The rest will take care of itself. Just go out to a practice with somebody you know or a team that’s nearby and I promise the rest will take care of itself after that first practice.”
Rugby’s growth throughout the country can also be attributed to, partly at least, the United States’ showing in last summer’s Olympics. The Olympic games gave sports fans a strong platform on which to watch rugby and learn more about it.
“With us qualifying for the Olympics, that was a really good platform for people to view rugby on,” Ebner said. “We definitely wanted to have a good showing. For people in the United States to watch rugby, that was great. It’s definitely something I aspired to really motivate kids to do.”
Ebner added that the work isn’t done yet. With plenty of work to be done for the sport’s growth, he’s hopeful that young athletes will continue to join in on rugby and is willing to help the cause.
“It’s definitely a goal and we have a lot of work to do to get more kids playing rugby,” Ebner said. “I definitely would love to see more growth within the sport and I’m willing to do anything I can to help.”