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Patriots S Nate Ebner earns spot on U.S. Olympic rubgy team

New England special teamer will represent U.S. in Rio games early next month.

On an approved leave from the Patriots this spring, New England special teamer Nate Ebner spent the offseason pursuing a spot on the U.S. Olympic rugby squad set to compete in the games in Rio next month.

Monday morning it was announced that Ebner indeed made the cut as one of the 12 members of the squad bound for Rio rugby competition, with the sport returning to the Olympics for the first time in 92 years. The sport returns with a seven-man version of the game, a faster style than the tradition 15-man sides.

Ebner previously described rugby sevens – which he's played his entire life growing up and into his time at Ohio State before landing in the NFL in New England – to USA Today as "full-blown action — the hardest 15 minutes of anything I've ever done."

The U.S. actually won the gold medal the last time rubgy was an Olympic sport, the 15-man game back in 1924. This time around the Americans will challenge the favorite Fiji in the faster-paced version of the sport.

Regardless, Ebner previously made it clear to USA Today that he's proud of the work he put forth this offseason leading up to his Olympic dream.

"It's been great. These guys are all great guys, humble guys," said Ebner. "I'm lucky to be teammates with them and call them my friends. Been a good opportunity, good learning experience. I've gotten to travel to Hong Kong and Singapore and London and Paris.

"I've left everything I possibly could out there and would have absolutely no regret or change anything I've done."

The Olympic rugby tournament will run for six days beginning Aug. 6. While that will be more than a week after the Patriots opening training camp in Foxborough and just before the team's Aug. 11 preseason opener -- the date of the gold medal rugby game in Rio -- Bill Belichick has made it clear he expects Ebner to be ready for action when he returns to the football field later this summer. Ebner, who ranked third on the Patriots with 11 special teams tackles last fall, re-signed with New England as a free agent this spring.

"Even though he will be away from our team during an important period of our offseason, he will still be getting excellent physical training and I expect him to be ready for the football season like he always is," Belichick said in a recent statement to the L.A. Times.

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