Leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, Nate Ebner’s phone rang repeatedly with calls and text messages from family, friends and well-wishers. And yes, even those seeking tickets one day before one of the world’s most watched sporting events.
His phone really blew up after New England Patriots teammate Malcolm Butler did the same to the Seattle Seahawks with his game-winning, goal-line interception.
But of all the rings he’s heard, this one sounds the best: Nate Ebner, Super Bowl champion.
“Yeah, I think it has a good ring to it,” said Ebner, a third-year defensive back and special teams standout with the Patriots. “It was great to see my phone blow up, man. It just shows the amount of love and support I have with people watching me, in my corner rooting for me.”
Growing up, Ebner lived with his mother, Nancy Pritchett, in Columbus and attended Hilliard Davidson High School. He spent every summer in Springfield as a youngster and through high school working with his late father, Jeff, at Ebner & Sons, an auto reclamation business. His grandparents, his step-mother and cousins still live in Springfield.
Ebner seldom gets back to Springfield — “there’s enough Ebners that I can be claimed there,” he said — but if he does, there’s one stop he tries to make.
“I’ll tell you one thing, I will try to hit Schuler’s bakery,” he said. “That place is amazing.”
The same word describes Ebner’s unorthodox journey to the NFL. He never played football at Hilliard Davidson. He walked on at Ohio State after his sophomore academic year and played three seasons.
Ebner’s football abilities were honed on the rugby pitch. The world-class player was named MVP on the U19 U.S. Junior National team and U20 team at the Junior World Cup. His studies at Ohio State didn’t allow for the time demanded to play at the international level. And club rugby didn’t offer the same challenge. Ebner was faced with the choice to go pro in rugby or remain at Ohio State and go out for football.
“I told myself, why not? And what better place to do it than Ohio State?” Ebner said. “I chose to finish my degree. I told my parents I would.”
Three years later, the Patriots made Ebner — who dazzled scouts at his NFL pro day workout — the 197th pick overall, in the sixth round.
He finished this past season as the Patriots’ second-leading special teams tackler with 11.
As for the Super Bowl, Ebner’s on-field experience was more low-key considering kicker Stephen Gostkowski boomed five touchbacks. Well, until Butler’s interception caused the Patriots’ sideline to erupt in jubilation. Who did Ebner hug first?
“I don’t even know who it was,” he said. “We were all hugging each other when Malcolm came to the sidelines. I was hugging everybody.”
There was one person Ebner wanted to hug most. His father was killed during a robbery attempt at the family business in 2008. Jeff Ebner, a standout rugby player himself, coached his son and gave him the groundwork for his NFL career.
His father’s death also gave Ebner a different outlook on life.
“One of the bigger things when all that happened was that I realized people would get upset about the dumbest stuff,” Ebner said. “It’s not worth getting overwhelmed or worried about certain things. At the same time, it made me realize you do only have one chance at this thing and I want to give it everything I have.
“Take what you do in life, whether it’s your job or whatever, and to not do it 100 percent I think you’re really wasting your time, your opportunity and the one life you have. Take whatever it is you pursue in life and go after it full throttle. Don’t have any regrets. Don’t leave anything in the tank.”
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