Nate Ebner won’t have the ESPN camera in his face or walk across the stage at the Radio City Music Hall in New York this weekend. But, chances are, he’s holding out hope his name will be called as one of the 253 players selected by the time the NFL Draft concludes Saturday.
A walk-on turned special teams standout at Ohio State, Ebner greatly boosted his chances to become a professional football player at Ohio State’s pro day last month, running a 4.48 40-yard dash. The former USA U20 fullback has been in contact with teams since.
“I'm not getting overly excited about the draft," Ebner told the Cleveland Plain Dealer earlier this week. "I just want a chance with a team. At the end of the day, you have to show up when it comes time to play."
Even if Ebner isn’t drafted, which is entirely possible, his courtship with an NFL career won’t be over. Next week every team in the NFL will begin signing undrafted rookie free agents, and they may take on more than ever before, as the NFL has expanded the overall team roster capacity to 90 players.
“Going the football route for now. Would love to keep in touch with the rugby team and will definitely contemplate making the switch,” Ebner told RUGBYMag.com, “but for now it’s all football until they tell me to leave! Or also if these new leagues start to pick up for sevens or I get some good offers to play 15s that I can't turn down.”
Ebner will likely be picked up as an undrafted free agent by someone, at which point the roster reduction dates will become of utmost importance to him over the coming months. The first roster reduction is to 75 active (not injured) players on Aug. 28 following preseason week 3. The final roster reduction to 53 active players is Aug. 31 of preseason week 4.
Teams and cut and sign free agents throughout the offseason at their leisure, as long as they stay at or under the roster requirement. It’s not uncommon to see players attend multiple training camps.
If football doesn’t work out for Ebner, he pans to return to rugby.
"It's football all the way, and if that doesn't work out, I'm definitely playing rugby somewhere if I'm not playing football,” told the Plain Dealer. "But I'm going to be hitting people with my body as long as it can take it. And rugby's too fun to not play if I'm not playing football."
If new USA 7s coach Alex Magleby is as fond of Ebner as his predecessor, he’ll want to get Ebner under contract if he doesn’t make an NFL roster. But will Magleby be willing to save a roster spot for Ebner until the last week of August?
For now, as it has been, it’s a waiting game, both for Ebner on his football career and those who want to see him in a rugby uniform.