Ex-rugby player Ebner: 'Maybe I got a screw loose'

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Ex-rugby player Ebner: 'Maybe I got a screw loose'

FOXBORO -- One thing was clear after speaking with Patriots draft pick Nate Ebner on Saturday evening's conference call: He was as shocked to be drafted as anyone.
"I just didn't want to expect anything and I didn't want to get overly excited," he said in a rush. "I hoped I would get a chance to be on a team -- especially the Patriots -- and words can't describe how excited I am to be a part of this organization. The fact I got drafted it just makes me so happy. And my family's happy and we're so excited about the opportunity. I'm really at a loss for words about the whole thing."
You see, Ebner isn't just an undrafted free agent-type talent who snuck into the seventh round. He's not, at his core, a football player.
Ohio State's website lists just two career notes for defensive back Ebner: Rugby convert to the secondary; joined the Buckeyes as a walk-on in 2009.
Huh?
"It was a long drawn out process," he said of the switch. "I was playing rugby, especially age grade stuff, and I was down at the World Cup in college and I couldn't do the professional rugby and college at the same time.
"I wanted to play football my senior year in high school and I didn't. So I decided I'd go out for Ohio State -- what better college program would you want to be a part of. Ohio State especially as a kid growing up in Columbus. I did it and it's worked out pretty well."
Ebner gave pee wee football a shot as a kid, but rugby is in his blood. Ebner said his father played and so he's been around the game since he was six years old. Unfortunately, that influence outlives his dad; Jeff Ebner was killed in 2008 when a robbery was attempted at his auto salvage business.
Nate appears not to mourn as much as honor.
"Obviously, it was devastating. Nobody wants to lose their father -- especially the way that happened. But, the type of person he was and our relationship, I can only draw strength from it. I never really was one to pity myself. I don't know how he would feel about me feeling bad for myself because he was gone.
"He would say every day, 'If I die tomorrow, I wouldn't be mad about it, the way I lived.' So I don't want to, as a son, be sad about it. If I just try to draw strength from it. I'm so lucky to have a person like that in my life, especially as a father figure. He was amazing."
Rugby is now happily shelved, with all due respect. Ebner, despite having zero expectations of being drafted, will now fight for a chance to play for the defending AFC Champion Patriots.
Play where? Maybe not the secondary. Though he played both nickel back and safety at Ohio State, Ebner was considered a special teams stalwart at Ohio State.
"I was a safety and practice with them a lot I got a couple plays in a game at nickel back but my role at Ohio State, they wanted me to play special teams and that's what I did. The coaches wanted that and I gave everything I had into that. I baked up Tyler Moeller at nickel back last year and obviously some safety stuff. Just did what the coaches needed of me."
If any aspects of his first sports love will help in this next venture, it's tough to say.
"It compares in the fact that we hit each other and there's a lot of running and some big dudes. I don't know that it compares a lot. I'd say the speed of the game and the tackling are similar, but they're very different sports. I guess when it's time to come down and hit somebody, as we're running down on kickoff, I'd say that's very similar to the time we come down in a rugby game and you've got to hit somebody."
Kickoff, you see, is his favorite part of the game.
"Because because, I don't know why," he laughed. The attempted explanation was muddled with intensity. "I just enjoy running down as fast as you can. It's just mayhem, it's exciting. It's such a rush. I don't know. It happens so fast it's just one big blur and then it's over. I just love it, it's amazing. Maybe I got a screw loose."
Sounds like, at least, Ebner will give New England's special teams units a much-needed jolt. It's hard to know what else to expect -- from a rugby player.

Patriots-Steelers game notes: Pats shooting for record ninth Super Bowl berth

Patriots-Steelers game notes: Pats shooting for record ninth Super Bowl berth

A quick look at the information you need to know about tonight's Patriots-Steelers game:

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

TEAM RECORDS: Patriots 15-2, Steelers 13- 5

GAME TIME: 6:40 p.m. EST

TV: CBS

TV ANNOUNCERS: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms and Tracy Wolfson

NATIONAL RADIO NETWORKS: Westwood One

NATIONAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Kevin Harlan, Dan Fouts and Ross Tucker

LOCAL RADIO NETWORK: Anchored by WBZ-FM (98.5 The Sports Hub)

LOCAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Bob Socci and Scott Zolak

ALL-TIME SERIES BETWEEN THE TEAMS: Steelers lead, 15-14

LAST MEETING: Patriots 27, Steelers 16 on Oct. 23, 2016 at Heinz Field

* * * *
QUICK FACTS
-- Bill Belichick is coaching in his NFL-record 11th conference championship game. Tom Brady is playing in his NFL-record 11th conference championship game.

-- The Patriots are 8-4 in AFC Championship Games, including 5-1 in games played in Foxboro and 4-1 at Gillette Stadium.

-- The Patriots are 30-19 in postseason games, including 19-4 at home (3-1 at Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium, 16-3 at Gillette).

-- The Patriots' 30 postseason victories are tied with the 49ers for fourth-most in NFL history, behind the Cowboys (34), Steelers (34) and Packers (32).

-- The Patriots' .612 winning percentage in postseason games is third-best in NFL history, behind the Ravens (15-8, .652) and Packers (34-21, .618).

* * * *
MILESTONES
-- If the Patriots win today they will qualify for their ninth Super Bowl, most in NFL history. They are currently tied with the Cowboys, Broncos and Steelers at eight.

-- If the Patriots win today, Robert Kraft will set an NFL record for most conference championships by an owner (8) in the Super Bowl era. He is currently tied with the Denver Broncos' Pat Bowler at seven.

-- If the Patriots win today, Bill Belichick will move into a tie with Bill Walsh for third place on the NFL list of best postseason coaching winning percentage. Belichick (who would be 25-10 with a victory) and Walsh (10-4) would have .714 winning percentage. Belichick is currently in fifth place, two percentage points behind Joe Gibbs (17-7, .708). Vince Lombardi (9-1, .900) is in first place and Tom Flores (8-3. .727) is second.

-- If the Patriots win today, Belichick will advance to his seventh Super Bowl as a head coach, which would be most in NFL history. He is currently tied with Don Shula at six.

-- Tom Brady (8) needs one more playoff game with three or more touchdown passes to tie Joe Montana (9) for most three-plus TD playoff games since the 1970 NFL merger.

-- Stephen Gostkowski (142) needs 11 points to tie Gary Anderson for third place on the NFL's all-time list of kicking points in the postseason. Adam Vinatieri (234) is first and David Akers (175) is second.

-- Julian Edelman (76) needs nine receptions to tie Andre Reed (85) for sixth place on the NFL's all-time list of postseason receptions. Michael Irvin is fifth at 88, and Hines Ward and Wes Welker are tied for third at 88.

* * * *
TONIGHT'S OFFICIALS
-- REFEREE: Terry McAulay. UMPIRE: Rich Hall. HEAD LINESMAN: Wayne Mackie. LINE JUDGE: Mark Perlman. FIELD JUDGE: Scott Edwards. SIDE JUDGE: Boris Cheek. BACK JUDGE: Tony Steratore. ALTERNATES: John Parry, Mark Steinkerchner, Rich Martinez. REPLAY OFFICIAL: Mike Wimmer. SUPERVISOR: Gary Slaughter.

Brady goes back to high school for pregame social media post

Brady goes back to high school for pregame social media post

Tom Brady's pregame Facebook and Instagram post Sunday shows him wearing a different No. 12 uniform, that of Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif.

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

The Patriots quarterback, looking for his seventh Super Bowl trip Sunday night when he faces the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium in his and his team's sixth consecutive AFC Championship Game, posted the old photo and message on both his Facebook and newly opened Instagram accounts.

My family, my friends, my teammates, my coaches, Pats nation, my schools, our fans... I'm playing for you today. LET'S GO

Posted by Tom Brady on Sunday, January 22, 2017