FOXBORO -- When Patriots safety Nate Ebner took a big hit in an international rugby match back in April, he had his buddy and fellow special teams ace Matthew Slater a bit concerned.
"He got blown up there a couple of weeks ago," Slater said on Thursday. "I had to send him a text and be like, ‘Hey, man, we can’t get you hurt out there,’ but we’re certainly excited for him and what he’s doing."
Ebner is currently away from the Patriots and training with USA Rugby in the hopes of trying to make the US Olympic Rugby team. A former rugby star at Ohio State, Ebner chose to pursue professional football full-time coming out of college, but his passion for first love never stopped simmering.
Even before signing an extension with the Patriots earlier this offseason, he was open with the club about trying to represent his country in Rio this summer.
"It was interesting," Ebner told SportsRadio 94WIP in Philadelphia. "I was a free agent at the time, too. So kind of talking about my next contract and things of that nature and talking to him about where my head was at with rugby — not just Bill [Belichick] but everybody and a lot of other guys in the Patriots organization . . . At the end of the day they were really receptive and understanding of where I was coming from, and really (understanding) the player that they drafted back in 2012, that I was a rugby player.
"I’ve gotten a lot of support. I’m really thankful that I can come back to a first-class organization like the Patriots and have them let me take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
While Slater is pulling for Ebner to make his olympic dreams come to fruition, Ebner told 94WIP what he's been saying since he made his decision to leave the Patriots and pursue rugby: There's no guarantee he makes the final roster.
"Going forward here, two weeks from now we’re going to start camp for the Olympics so they can finalize the team," Ebner said. "It’s going to be a tough go. I really couldn’t tell you here or there. There’s a lot of great players. There are only 12 spots to make this team. Guys have been on this roster for many years trying to make this team, been playing for quite a bit of time.
"Like I said, there’s some really, really great players out there. I definitely have my work cut out for me and at the end of the day I’m going to leave it all out there and whatever happens happens."
If Ebner is able to make the club, the rugby competition in Brazil will take place from Aug. 6-11. That'll mean he'll miss a portion of training camp, but his teammates -- and Slater in particular -- are behind him nonetheless.
"How awesome is that? How many guys can say they won a Super Bowl and played in the Olympics?" Slater asked. "We support him 100 percent . . . I’ve got to get a jersey of my guy and represent him, but what a unique opportunity that is. We’re all proud of him and the opportunity that he has."
Whenever Ebner does return to the Patriots, he'll provide them added depth in the secondary and experience as a core special teamer. Slater admitted he was aggressive with Ebner in making sure the four-year veteran re-signed with New England.
Ebner eventually inked a two-year deal to remain with the Patriots.
"Well, I was definitely on Nate even before the season ended knowing that his contract was up, and I obviously wanted him back selfishly because he enables me to do a lot of the things that I do on the football field," Slater said. "I’d say Nate is one of the hardest working, just great energy, and overall best players that I’ve played with during my time here in New England and I have so much respect for Nate Ebner as a football player."