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Forgotten Buckeyes: Nate Ebner never started a game at Ohio State, but he is a legend nonetheless

The ongoing series where we re-remember lesser known Buckeye heroes.

Ebner was at the center of many special teams celebrations

If you’ve been following Forgotten Buckeyes, first and foremost: thank you! It has been a lot of fun reminiscing about some of the most under-appreciated heroes in OSU football history. From Scotty Mac to Damon Moore, all the players in this series made a special contribution to Ohio State, and we should continue to celebrate their legacy.

That being said, as the football season rapidly approaches, we are going to put a pause on Forgotten Buckeyes after this installment. It will be back! I can promise you that! Just taking a break to focus on some more timely topics, and reload for a different version of the series.

I look forward to highlighting forgotten OSU hoopers soon, and I would love to hear some of your Forgotten Buckeyes before the series returns. I am going to close it out (for now) with a personal favorite.

Contrary to how it sometimes seems, not every difference-making football player at Ohio State will go on to have success in the NFL. In fact, it is a small group that even makes it onto a Week One roster.

However, just because a former player fades away from the spotlight, it does not mean that they deserve to be forgotten. Some of the most important moments and memories from the last 20 years can be attributed to the players whose careers ended with a bowl game.

This is a series acknowledging forgotten Buckeyes; an ode to the players without pictures and plaques hanging in The Horseshoe. These guys all played a pivotal role in historic Ohio State moments, and should be remembered for their special contributions to OSU football.


Nate Ebner | DB/Special Teams (2009-2011)

Might as well call this guy Captain America
Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Nate Ebner has become infinitely more recognizable since leaving Ohio State than he was as a Buckeye. Unlike his time in Columbus, at least a few fanbases are now acutely aware of his on-field contributions and locker room leadership. In a way, he is the perfect Forgotten Buckeye because his OSU playing career was so forgettable! For those who do know the name, Ebner is a great example of hard work, perseverance, and chasing your dreams.

Ebner was born in the Columbus suburb of Dublin, and attended high school in nearby Hilliard. His father Jeff was a former college rugby player, and that became Nate’s first love. He developed into a star at the junior level, eventually playing in three Junior World Cups. He continued to play at the club and national level in college, earning MVP of the IRB Junior World Championships in 2007 and 2008.

Because of his success and passion for rugby, Ebner did not play football in high school. Even upon his enrollment at Ohio State, he still had no intentions of pursuing a football career. It was not until 2009, after a life-altering event, that he would finally pursue opportunity on the gridiron.

His father, Jeff Ebner, was tragically murdered in November of 2008. He was working at the family business, Ebner & Sons (which his son called “the junkyard”), when a robbery attempt went terribly wrong. Nate was his only child, and they were inseparable. Jeff introduced his son to rugby, and was fortunate enough to be a fan during his best years on the pitch.

Just prior to his passing, he was also able to have a conversation with Nate regarding his pursuit of football. Jeff fully supported him, and encouraged his son to chase a new dream. If you want to read more about the Ebners’ relationship, Nate released a book this year called “Finish Strong: A Father’s Code and a Son’s Path,” and it speaks more to the strong bond they shared.

After his father’s tragic death, when many would struggle to just move forward, Nate Ebner plowed ahead. He became a walk-on for the Ohio State football team in 2009. While he was obviously familiar with the game, Eber was out of practice — to say the least. However, his physicality and aggressiveness earned him a spot on the roster. Listed as a safety, he barely saw the field on defense that season. He played just a handful of downs in the Buckeyes’ nickel package, but did record a sack.

Ebner made his mark on special teams. Blessed with good speed (4.5 in the 40), he sprinted down the field with reckless abandon on kick coverage. He was known for his win-at-all-costs mentality and willingness to sacrifice his body. Because of his mental makeup and toughness, he quickly became viewed as a leader on the football field. He also earned the nickname “Leonidas” for his resemblance to the movie character in “300.”

By year-end, Ebner was considered one of, if not the, best special teams players for OSU. The Buckeyes have preached the importance of special teams for many years, so to be mentioned as one of the best players on the unit is a real honor, and speaks volumes about how he was viewed by coaches and teammates.

Ebner more than earned a spot on the roster over the next two seasons. He accumulated 30 special teams tackles during his Ohio State career, but made a larger impact than the stats would tell you. By 2011, he was on scholarship and voted the team’s most inspirational player, as well as its best special teamer. He also excelled in the classroom, earning All-Academic Big Ten each season he played for OSU. Ebner epitomized what it means to be a Buckeye, and was revered by those in the program. His reputation and pro day performance would go on to earn him an unlikely opportunity in the NFL.

As with pretty much every player who chooses to do so, Ebner participated in Ohio State’s pro day held after the 2011 season. Despite his limited role, NFL teams and personnel took notice. He ran a 4.47 40-yard dash, had a 39.5 inch vertical jump, and benched 225 pounds 23 times. At 6-feet and just over 200 pounds, he was viewed as a special athlete. Against all odds, the New England Patriots selected Ebner in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft.

He stepped in as a rookie and played right away. He finished second on the team in special teams tackles, and even played close to forty snaps as a safety. Ebner would enjoy plenty of success over the course of his New England career. He won three Super Bowls, was named Second-Team All Pro in 2016, and head coach Bill Belichick once said that he was in the top five percent of players he had ever coached when it came to growth and development from college to the pros. Ebner also took a brief NFL sabbatical to go back to his rugby roots, when he played for the Team USA Rugby Team in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Ebner is not yet retired from the NFL, but is currently without a contract. He spent 2020 with the New York Giants, and is rehabbing an injury in hopes of returning. That injury kept him from making a return to the Olympics, which he was considering beforehand.

That injury and lack of a contract are small potatoes for Ebner though. He is a Forgotten Buckeye with an unforgettable story, and has overcome all of the odds stacked against him. From walk-on, to NFL draft pick, to United States Olympian, Nate Ebner is a one-of-a-kind Buckeye legend.