NFL star Nate Ebner has re-joined the USA Sevens side following a five-year absence from rugby ahead of this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
The 32-year-old currently plays as a safety and special teamer for the New York Giants and won three Super Bowls during his seven-year spell with the New England Patriots between 2012 and 2019.
It was also during his time with the Patriots, where he lined up alongside the legendary Tom Brady, when he dabbled with rugby, a sport he had previously represented the United States in at U19 and U20 levels.
In 2016, New England granted Ebner a leave of absence to ply his trade for the USA Sevens side, who he played for at the Hong Kong, Singapore and Paris events on the 2015-16 World Sevens Series circuit.
His impressive performances in those tournaments were enough to secure him with a place in the USA Sevens squad to play at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he played in four of his nation’s five matches en route to a ninth-place finish.
A return to the NFL beckoned following the Olympics, but Ebner has now returned to the American sevens set-up as he targets a second successive appearance at the Games.
Ebner linked back up with the USA Sevens squad on Monday [ET] as one of 30 players trialling for 12 spots on the Olympics roster ahead of the kick-off of the Games in July following its year-long postponement due to COVID-19.
He said the fact that his side fell short of medalling in Brazil five years ago is a driving force in his return to sevens.
“Not getting a medal in that last Olympics is something that really bothers me,” Ebner, who one of only seven players in NFL history to have competed at an Olympics and is the one person ever to have attended an Olympics and won a Super Bowl in the same year, told Giants.com.
“When I reflect on what’s important in my life, if I’m being honest, that was high priority. People say, ‘You were the guy who won a gold medal in the Olympics,’ and I’m like, ‘No, we didn’t win a medal.’
“Not winning a medal, especially when I thought that we had the team to do it, and as I look at the growth in the last five years, we definitely have an even better chance this time around. It’s something I would really like to be a part of.”
It’s that ambition that will be warmly welcomed by USA Sevens head coach Mike Friday, who selected Ebner for the 2016 Olympics.
After showing plenty of promise as an age-grade star in New Zealand, Kieran Manawatu found himself working in a dead-end job with no rugby prospects on the horizon at the age of 22. A call from Europe, though, turned his life around.https://t.co/9XNB5yramw
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 15, 2021
“We are very excited to welcome Nate back into the pack,” head coach Friday told said. “He is not only a talented athlete, rugby player and Olympian, he is a durable individual who knows how to grind and is selfless for the cause.
“Nate is an authentic, good man who carries himself with humility, has a burning desire in his eyes to achieve and a passion to embed rugby and its values in the American sporting landscape.”
Ebner, who played all 16 of New York’s matches last season, has the full support of the Giants as he looks to double down on his rugby feats, even if it means he could miss the opening week of the franchise’s pre-season training camp.
The men’s Olympic sevens tournament gets underway on July 26 and wraps up two days later, around the same time the Giants players will congregate ahead of the 2021 NFL season.
However, New York head coach Joe Judge, who was Ebner’s special teams coordinator at the Patriots, fully backs his player’s bid for Olympic glory.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 15, 2021
“We are proud to support Nate in his effort to earn a place on the United States national rugby team,” Judge said. “This is the second time I have been with Nate while he tries to make the team to represent our country in the Olympics.
“We know that rugby has been an important part of Nate’s life since he was a young man, and [Giants general manager] Dave [Gettleman] and I both encouraged him to pursue this opportunity.
“Nate’s rugby training will keep him in great shape this offseason, and we will stay in touch with him as he goes through the process.”
In addition to his playing commitments with the Giants and USA Sevens, Ebner is also a minority owner of the New England Free Jacks in Major League Rugby, as is his former Patriots teammate Patrick Chung.
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