Friday, May 11, 2012

Rugby star Nate Ebner will turn Pats’ heads

He’s something special

By Karen Guregian

May 11, 2012

For those who have checked out the YouTube video showcasing his rugby prowess, there’s no escape. Admit it. Nate Ebner had you at hello.

If anyone wondered why Bill Belichick would surrender a sixth-round pick on an Ohio State walk-on, a kid who registered a mere three snaps at safety, but was more known for his work on special teams, it’s right there in living color. He jumps off the screen. Take after take.

He has a speed gear no one can touch. He gets to ball carriers like a heat-seeking missile. He has great open field skills.

Now, granted, it’s a rugby video. It’s not football, but there’s enough evidence to connect the dots. The Buckeyes did, and weren’t sorry. Just ask Paul Haynes, the former co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State who coached Ebner on the kickoff unit.

“That’s why he was such a great special teams player for us. He’s fearless,” said Haynes, who currently serves as the defensive coordinator at Arkansas. “Look, I’ve told a few people this, but the most important people on our team last year was our quarterback and Nate Ebner. He was so valuable for us. He is just a fearless guy. He made like 70 percent of our plays, and the other 30 percent, he made something happen on our kickoff unit. The kid is just awesome. He’s also an awesome person.”

So by the look of it, Ebner is going to be this mad kamikaze-like figure on special teams if he makes the Pats. That’s fine. But can he play safety? He was drafted as a defensive back. Is that even in the realm?

“I know this, there isn’t anyone that’s going to outwork him,” Haynes said. “There is no inkling in his mind that he doesn’t belong there. He will do everything that coach will tell him to get it done. I wouldn’t be surprised if I looked out there (this season) and he was playing safety.”

Free safety? Strong safety? In space? In the box? Where might we find young Ebner?

“I don’t know if it even matters,” Haynes said. “The kid is big, he’s strong, he’s fast. He has great ball skills. His work ethic is out the roof. The sky’s the limit for him. I know why everyone’s so excited about him, because he has such an incredible story. He was one of our most valuable players on that football team and that’s strange to say as a special teams guy. That’s how respected he was by everyone on that team.”

Ebner endured through personal tragedy. In 2008, his father was killed at his auto-salvage business during a robbery attempt.

“He took it to motivate him. It was like it was a drive for him,” Haynes said. “He was so close to his dad. They always worked out together. That’s one thing he loves to do. He loves to work out. He took it and it motivated him to become even better.

“That’s why, with him, he’s going to do whatever it takes to get it done.”

Many people suspect former Patriots [team stats] linebacker Mike Vrabel, an assistant coach at Ohio State, may have made sure Belichick wouldn’t overlook Ebner, who practically willed OSU to a bowl game.

“If someone called Mike, I know Mike would be saying the exact same things I’m saying,” Haynes said. “You know Mike Vrabel and how tough he is, and how hard a worker he is. For him to put a stamp on a guy, you know that guy is a Patriot-like guy.’’

With rookie camp beginning today comes the first live look at the former rugby star who had people scratching their heads when drafted. Now, our curiosity is piqued. Is it ever.

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