BOSTON (AP) The Patriots' special teamer Nate Ebner is taking a break from the NFL to attempt to earn a spot with the U.S. Rugby team in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The Patriots will keep Ebner under contract while he trains with the U.S. Rugby Sevens team at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.
New England announced Tuesday it had re-signed the unrestricted free agent, who has appeared mostly on special teams in his 57 career games.
Ebner was Team USA's MVP in the 2007 and 2008 Junior World Championship in 2008. He played rugby exclusively his first two years at Ohio State before walking onto the football team as a junior. He was selected by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Both Ebner and USA Rugby expressed gratitude to New England for allowing him to take a leave of absence.
''First and foremost, I want to say thank you to the Patriots from top to bottom for allowing me to come back and play for a truly first class organization,'' Ebner said in a statement. ''I also want to thank them and USA Rugby for giving me the opportunity to chase a dream I have had since I was a boy, in a sport in which I have 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 my country to the best of my ability. Thanks again, Go Pats and Go Team USA!''
The Patriots wished Ebner well in a tweet Tuesday.
USA Rugby Performance Director Alex Magleby said that Ebner's past rugby history and his NFL training put him in good position to make the roster.
''He will be up against it in an already competitive player pool for Rio, but knowing Nate, he will relish in that challenge and will work hard to bring out the best in himself and his U.S. teammates,'' Magleby said.
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