New England Patriots safety Nate Ebner is taking a leave from offseason football training to join the U.S. rugby sevens program with a goal of making the Olympic team, according to USA Rugby.
Ebner, 27, has been mostly a special-teams player for the Patriots since being drafted in the sixth round in 2012.
He was a rugby standout a decade ago for U.S. junior teams at World Championships and at Ohio State, before he walked onto the Buckeyes football team as a junior.
“We are aware of Nate’s rugby background from his high school and college days, and this was the key to him being in a position to compete with the current squad,” U.S. coach Mike Friday said in a press release. “We will be able to condition him over the next six to eight weeks to be more aligned with rugby and work with him to get him up to speed on his skills and tactical understanding.”
Rugby returns to the Olympics in August for the first time since 1924, but the difference this year is that it will be the sevens version rather than the more traditional 15 players per side.
That will make Ebner’s quest more difficult, as the U.S. Olympic team will include 12 players total.
The U.S. rugby sevens team has four more World Series stops in April and May ahead of the Rio Olympics. It is ranked fifth in the series standings through six legs.