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New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Nate Ebner

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When the New England Patriots reported for training camp on Wednesday, Nate Ebner wasn't with them.

The special teams player has taken a leave of absence to play for the U.S. Olympic rugby team.

"It's a great opportunity for him to follow his passion, participate in the Olympic Games," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We're pulling for him to bring back something around his neck."

Ebner played rugby but not football in 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 draft and has appeared in 57 NFL games, mostly on special teams.

Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater noted that Ebner's father was a college rugby player. Jeff Ebner was murdered during an attempted robbery in 2008.

"That connection with father and son is bigger than sport itself," Slater said. "I know this means a great deal to him and we're all excited for him."

Slater said he's in the market for an Ebner rugby jersey.

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