New England Patriot Nate Ebner Turns Olympic Rugby Team Hopeful
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Say you're a Super Bowl winner, and you play for one of the most successful franchises in football history. And you think to yourself - no need to kick back and relax. I need to go and play some rugby.
That's exactly what New England Patriot Nate Ebner has decided to do. He's been granted a leave of absence by the New England Patriots to try and make the U.S. rugby sevens team for the Olympic Games in Rio. Nate Ebner joins us on the line from Chula Vista, Calif.
Nate, thanks for being with us.
NATE EBNER: Yeah, thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Clearly, you like rugby. But, you know, people out there would listen to this and say - what? - this guy has a career in the NFL. Why would you put your career on hold to go try to play rugby?
EBNER: Well, what most people probably don't know is I grew up with rugby. I didn't play football in high school. I grew up with rugby at 6 - 7 years old, won some Junior World Cups. So when this opportunity could come about to potentially be a part of the Olympics in a sport I grew up with, it's hard to not want to be a part of that.
MARTIN: So it was actually rugby that was your first love. Then how did this whole football detour happen?
EBNER: Well, like I said, I didn't play football in high school - I almost did my senior year - and played a couple more years of Junior World Cups in college. Had a couple years left of college till I was going to graduate, and I didn't want to leave to play professional rugby, so I just was going to finish my degree. And I spoke with my father and my family about playing football because it was something I was passionate about. I was already at Ohio State. I kind of wanted to give it a shot, so I walked on in one of the winter walk-on tryouts. And here we are.
MARTIN: What do you love about rugby? Why's it - I mean, there are a lot of similarities with football. Just at a basic level, the only big difference that you spot right away - you don't wear pads, so it feels - it seems more dangerous. But what's - what do you love about that's different from football?
EBNER: I don't know. It's, like, I grew up with the sport at a young age. I gravitated towards it at a young age. I was pretty decent at it. So, you know, it's like anything else in your life you grow up and you're good at (laughter). You kind of like it. So - not only that, but just, like, the way the game is - it's a free-flow game. Everybody has to do everything. You have to tackle. You have to run. You have to rush. You have to pass - all those things. And it's not just one person does, you know, some skill work and somebody does the grunt work. Everybody's kind of - has to do it together.
MARTIN: So what happens? If you make it to the Olympics and you get to play rugby, do you just see how that goes and then go back to New England and put on your pads again and...
MARTIN: ...Team up with the Pats?
EBNER: I mean, hope so. I just hope everything goes well. I'm going to try make the most of this opportunity and...
MARTIN: Any chance you'd go professional in rugby if this works out really well?
EBNER: Right now, I'm just focused on - you know, working hard right now to get better and make an impact and try to make this team to go to the Olympics.
MARTIN: Patriots safety Nate Ebner - he's trying out for the Olympic rugby team.
Hey, Nate, thanks so much for talking with us.
EBNER: Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.