While we are usually writing about Australian’s such as Jarryd Hayne or Joel Wilkinson attempting to make the transition to the NFL, rarely do we hear about Americans heading the other way, particularly those who already have a lucrative NFL contract.
But Nate Ebner of the New England Patriots has proven the exception to this, and it was the allure of an Olympic medal that has tempted him back to the sport he grew up with. This would no doubt make a welcome addition to the Super Bowl ring that Ebner won after being part of the Patriots’ successful 2014 season.
Ebner, who received permission from the Patriots’ to play in the Hong Kong Rugby Tens tournament, received a call up to the United States’ Rugby Sevens side when Carlin Isles was sidelined through injury. This is despite just re-signing to the Patriots on a two year, $2.4million ($US) contract.
Ebner is no stranger to the Rugby Sevens tournament. As a 17 year old he became the youngest person ever to play in the United States’ Rugby Sevens team. He then went onto compete in the IRB Junior World Rugby Championships in 2007 and 2008 as an under-19 and under-20, and was awarded the team MVP in both competitions.
But Ebner’s athleticism caught the eye of the college football coaches at Ohio State University, despite never having played high school football. And although starting his college career as a walk-on, he finished on scholarship and was voted by his teammates in 2011 as the team’s most inspirational player.
The Patriots drafted Ebner with their 6th round pick in the 2012 and signed him to a four year contract. His first four seasons has seen him play primarily on special teams and is occasionally called up by the defensive unit.
In his four Rugby 7s games so far Ebner has started as a substitute, and although he has made little impact on the game, the United States have made easy work of Argentina, Portugal, and Australia, but were eliminated by South Africa in the Qualifying Final.
The USA is currently ranked 5th on the Rugby Sevens World Series standings. This suggests that if Ebner manages to get selected for the Rio Olympic Games in August 2016, there is an outside chance that he will walk away with a medal.