The New England Patriots will be without safety Nate Ebner for most of the upcoming summer, but there's a good, patriotic reason for that.
Starting on Tuesday, Ebner is taking a leave of absence from the NFL to pursue his dream of making the U.S. rugby team and winning gold at the Olympics this summer. He won't be gone for the entire offseason, though. Ebner plans to return to the team after the rugby portion of the Olympics concludes on August 11.
Not that there was ever a question about backing from New England, but the special teams ace has the full support of the Patriots.
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We are proud to support @Natebner34 in his effort to earn a place on the United States National Rugby team.— New England Patriots (@Patriots) March 15, 2016
On Tuesday, Ebner signed a one-year contract to return to New England after making the third-most special teams tackles on the team last season.
"First and foremost, I want to thanks the Patriots from top to bottom for giving me the opportunity to come back and play for a truly first class organization," Ebner said, via NFL.com. "I also want to thank them 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."
Ebner was a sixth-round pick in 2012 after starring as an All-American rugby player at Ohio State. His physicality and toughness from rugby has translated well in the NFL, consistently making an impact on special teams for the Patriots.
Leading up to the Olympics, Ebner will train at the U.S. Olympic training location in Chula Vista, Calif.