COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State junior defensive back Nate Ebner will have his mind set on winning a different kind of championship this weekend when he takes the field for the Ohio State rugby team at the USA Sevens Rugby Collegiate Championship Invitational at Crew Stadium.
The inaugural round-robin event begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday as San Diego State takes on Florida. The Buckeyes face Utah in their first match at 7:50 p.m. Friday before playing in-state foe Bowling Green and Penn State Saturday. Indiana joins Ohio State and Penn State as Big Ten Conference schools with a team in the tournament.
A standout on the United States U19 and U20 rugby national teams and MVP of the Rugby World Cup in 2007 and 2008, Ebner did not play football while at Hilliard Davidson High School. After joining the Buckeye football team as a walk-on in 2009, Ebner recorded seven tackles and appeared in 12 games for the Rose Bowl and Big Ten champions.
During the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl run last season, the Dublin, Ohio native brought his “Finish Strong” motto, which he carried on from his father, Jeff, who tragically passed away last year, to the rest of his teammates who used the mantra as inspiration as they closed out the season with six consecutive wins, including a 26-17 triumph over Oregon in Pasadena. Not only did Nate learn the inspirational message from his father, but he was exposed to the game of rugby by him at an early age.
“He taught me a lot about how to play the game, pretty much everything I know about rugby to this day, so he definitely lives through me,” Ebner said. “I enjoy playing the game and I hope we do well this weekend. I know I wouldn’t be here if it were not for him.”
For Ebner, the work he has done on the football field and in the weight room has helped mold him into the rugby player he is today.
“I can take the intensity from football every day and carry it over to rugby and I think I’ve done that the last couple weeks of practice,” Ebner said. “The footwork, playing fast and conditioning all translates over.”
As for which sport is tougher? That depends.
“I think rugby is tougher physically during the game and when I wake up the day after a game or practice, I feel it a lot more. Despite the fact that we do not wear nearly as much padding in rugby, I feel that there is a lot more risk of injury in football just because of the speed everybody plays at and the size of some of the players you try to tackle or block.”
Rugby Sevens will become an Olympic sport in 2016, so not only does the tournament showcase many of the top collegiate rugby players in the country, it provides an opportunity to see future Olympians at their best.
“I think the tournament will definitely open some eyes to the sport and hopefully by the time the Olympics roll around, people will know much more about it than they do today. My football teammates all think it’s pretty cool and they want to come out and see what it is all about. Sevens is exciting and it’s really an intense sport that people will enjoy watching.”