New England safety Nate Ebner has been given leave by the NFL franchise to chase his dream of playing rugby sevens at the Olympics.
The Patriots announced on Tuesday (Wednesday) they supported the Super Bowl winner’s move to return to rugby to have a crack at making the US team for Rio before he returns to New England once the Olympic competition finishes on August 11.
At 17, Ebner became the youngest player to represent the US Rugby World Sevens team in 2006 before playing for his nation at the 2007 and 2008 IRB Junior World Championships.
“Rugby’s always been a part of my life since even I was six years old,” Ebner said.
“I probably picked up a ball and started playing and watching my dad play so its always been a part of my life.
“I grew up with rugby like (how) most kids probably grew up with football, or basketball or baseball. For me, its always been around.”
Ebner has followed the sevens tournaments closely in recent years, maintaining contact with many of the coaches who guided him in his younger rugby days.
With the 2012 Super Bowl already under his belt, the 27-year-old is now hoping to add an Olympic medal to his NFL ring.
Not that even making the team is something he is willing to take for granted.
“To not only play for my country but represent them at the Olympics, I don’t know that it’s something I could put into words,” he said.
“It would just be such a humbling experience that I would never forget for the rest of my life.”
Ebner, who was drafted by the Patriots in 2012, also said coach Bill Belichick had no issues with him taking the five months off to fulfil his childhood dream.