Nate Ebner, Patriots DB, to Train for US Rugby Team, 2016 Olympics

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2016

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Nate Ebner #43 of the New England Patriots reacts after a play against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium on September 10, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

New England Patriots defensive back Nate Ebner is taking a leave of absence from the organization to train with the United States rugby team ahead of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.  

Adam Schefter of ESPN passed along the news Monday shortly after the Patriots announced they had re-signed Ebner, an unrestricted free agent, to a new contract.

The 27-year-old special teams standout enjoyed a decorated rugby career at the junior level while making the transition to football at Ohio State. He was named MVP of the U19 and U20 Rugby World Cups in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

Now, he's returning to his roots for a chance to showcase his skills on the world stage. Schefter provided comments from the defender about the opportunity:

I also want to thank [the Patriots] 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.

The Patriots released a statement on social media:

The Americans qualified for the Summer Games with a 21-5 victory over Canada at the NACRA Sevens Championships last June. Now, they will begin preparing for the event, which will start Aug. 6 and run through Aug. 11.

While next season's NFL schedules haven't yet been released, the Patriots started their 2015 preseason campaign Aug. 13. Though there could be some overlap should Ebner make the final Olympic roster, there certainly won't be any concerns about his conditioning.

Ebner is a hard-hitting special teams ace for the Patriots, utilizing many of the same skills that have made him a terrific rugby prospect. Now, his job is trying to prove he can still make the impact he did during his junior days after focusing on football in recent years.

New England deserves credit for giving him a chance to chase a dream given the injury risks involved. He's racked up 47 combined tackles over four seasons since the Pats took him in the sixth round of the 2012 draft.

If nothing else, getting a chance to compete in Rio at the Olympics sure beats training camp. His goals are probably much bigger than simply getting a trip to Brazil, though.