Just prior to the April’s NFL Draft and then again on Draft Day, we focused on two rugby-stars-turned-NFL-wunderkinds: Hayden Smith and Nate Ebner. Smith is a free agent signee with the New York Jets and Ebner is a sixth-round special teams extraordinaire on the New England Patriots. With teams starting Organized Team Activities (known as OTAs), we figured we’d check up on these football hopefuls.
When former Australian rugby star Smith signed with the New York Jets he knew it was going to be hard. Smith is built like a tight end, which can be one of the more taxing and difficult positions in the football. A tight end is responsible for not only catching passes while crossing the middle of the field and doing his best to avoid the likes of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, but the tight end also has to be able to block the likes of Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams. This can be a daunting task for even the likes of future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. But luckily for Smith he has seasoned vet Dustin Keller on his side to help him along.
”The other tight ends have been fantastic. Dustin has been very helpful and so has Josh,” Smith said, also referring to fellow tight end Josh Baker. ”They have been giving me little tips on the field.”
Smith has already built a strong bond with his teammates up to this point. He even has earned the nickname “Aussie” for himself.
”I am honestly humbled by the whole thing and so excited about the situation,” he said.
Even though Smith won’t know if he has made the 53-man roster until the final week of pre-season, he has certainly gotten himself off to the right foot and is doing his best to absorb everything.
Ebner is a former rugby star and special teams captain at Ohio State University. Even though Nate received limited time at safety in his senior season as a Buckeye he was still drafted in the sixth round by the New England Patriots. Ebner was at a slight advantage because Mike Vrabel, a former Patriot great was a coach for Ohio State this past season. Vrabel had nothing but high praise for the special teams maniac.
Ebner is someone who is noted to play with high energy and high passion on the football field.
“He was probably the most valuable player on that whole team, the most valuable player on that whole team last year,” Coach Paul Haynes, Ebner’s positional coach last season said. “If there was a guy that we were going to go down with, it would have been Nate Ebner by far. There isn’t a coach on that staff who wouldn’t say that.”
Ebner may never play a snap on defense in his NFL career, but this I can guarantee… and you can book it, as ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith would say, “Nate Ebner will make a huge and noticeable impact for the New England Patriot this year.”
The Patriots signed Ebner to a 4-year contract on the 21st. This of course doesn’t mean he will be a guarantee to make the 53-man roster, but it is a good sign.