Episode #105: Nate Ebner – Professional NFL Player
My guest today is tough as nails NFL player Nate Ebner. Nate shares his incredible journey in his latest book Finish Strong: A Father’s Code and a Son’s Path. From high school rugby star to College and Professional NFL player, Nate takes on life with an intense discipline taught to him by his rugby loving Dad. Nate shares that his Dad spelled LOVE; T I M E, and how much of it he dedicated to Nate. At 19 and while at Ohio State, Nate lost his Dad to a robbery gone bad at the family junkyard. The location for many of Nate’s life lessons. He shares his journey to digging out of his grief and making it with Super Bowl Champs NE Patriots. Now married and playing for the Giants, Nate reflects on the past and shares his thoughts on the future.
Listen to the episode here:
- Toughness and Mentality [00:01:56]
- The Grind [00:07:12]
- Where Vulnerability Lies [00:10:52]
- Writing Finish Strong [00:14:13]
- Time: A Father’s Love [00:20:54]
- Parenting and Passing the Baton [00:30:42]
- Giving Your Everything [00:39:43]
- Being a Partner [00:48:44]
- Off-Season [00:52:30]
- Losing Dad [00:58:39]
Nate Ebner – Professional NFL Player
My guest is NFL Superstar Nate Ebner. Nate has a new book out called Finish Strong: A Father’s Code and a Son’s Path. Nate shares his journey from rugby superstar. He even played in the NFL simultaneously to playing in the 2016 US Olympic rugby team. This is a hard-working, go-get-him athlete who also shares his tale of his relationship with his father, the things he learned from his father, and how his dad was unexpectedly killed when he was 19 at college and how he dealt with the grief. Also, how he decided to use that pain to live in a way that he wants but that he knew his dad would want for him. This is for anyone who’s worked hard at something and who’s lost someone. Nate’s story is inspiring. Enjoy.
Even when you’re feeling the best and everything’s the best, how hard is it?
It doesn’t happen often. You probably feel good at the beginning of the season if you’re lucky and then you deal with something all season long.
I want to get into your book. I read your book and I want to talk all about that. Once people hear you share your story and your philosophy, they’re going to realize that you’re good at managing discomfort and relationship with discomfort. When you are here, where you are in this moment, how do you manage that and navigate through it? Most people quit or run away from it.
I lean on the past experiences that I’m playing through some tough stuff. If I can get to Sundays then I’ll have a chance. Honestly, I try not to go into panic mode on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday when you don’t feel good and manage that as best as you can. It’s tough that I’m older so I get a little bit more of a free pass. It’s my tenth season in the NFL. When I can’t practice as some other guys can, it’s not the end of the world.
When I was younger in the league, if you’re missing practice for something, you feel it’s a huge detriment to the team or if you’re going to play that week or not. Being older, it’s more of a mental game. I lean on that a little bit more. Trying to take it day by day is the only way. As difficult as it’s been for me to manage week to week and get myself in a position to play, one day at a time is all you can do. You get too ahead of yourself and then you start to panic and think about stuff that’s out of your control. I try to, as best as I can, stay in the moment and work on that.
People don’t understand time, age, and things like that with sports. It’s also interesting where you earn the right to go, “I need to maybe manage what I’m doing. I’m managing my days and my recovery.” You have enough respect or proven toughness and success that you can do that. I always love how people then try to make age such a narrative. Also, that gets forced on people. You start early and then you have to prove yourself and then all of a sudden, now you have to prove on the other side.
My husband is quite a bit older than you and he’s still doing his sport. Because he’s not on a team, he can avoid that narrative a little bit. He can do his thing. It’s like, “I’m going.” There’s no coach or anybody. Sometimes outside people don’t understand that an athlete like you in the sport that you’re in, there are a lot of things to deal with besides from play to play. It’s the things around it. That’s almost as hard as the sport itself.
No doubt. Being a veteran, you earn your stripes a little bit when you play through some stuff. People who’ve been with you know the way you’ll tap into it when the lights come on. As a younger person, that’s something you got to earn your stripes with. That’s the trend of all the athletes before. Unfortunately, we get put in a box relative to everyone else that has played, and until you prove otherwise, that’s where you’re at.
If you’re a young guy who’s hurt all the time or can’t play, you become unreliable and that’s not where you want to be. If you become an older guy like my situation and we don’t practice as much but you can’t seem to do it on the field either, that age narrative comes into play. With the age thing, it’s a real thing but it’s dependent upon the person. I’ve seen guys get injuries in their early 20s that affect them to the point where they have to retire early on. I’ve been blessed to be able to keep going.
There are other guys who play forever and it seems like they’re never heard. It’s individualized because, in those cases, maybe those players aren’t running or hitting. Everyone likes to talk about Tom Brady and his longevity but he has to run or hit like we do every play. It’s different. It’s not even comparable. Everyone’s situation is different. Lucky for me, I’ve been able to continue to play through it. When Sundays come, I play at a high level. There’ll be a time that won’t happen and it will be age-related.
I’m always curious. It’s seasons, practices, pre-seasons, travel, and competing. We often have a conversation in our house that we wonder sometimes if athletes get tired of that more than the playing of the game first. When you’ve done it, you go, “The game is also my business a little bit.” It’s that scheduled out part of it that someone if becomes a veteran, they almost get tired of that first before the game, before the play.
To me, what you’re talking about is the grind of being a professional athlete. It is a grind. I was talking to a friend that didn’t realize the hours we put in. I’m up at 5:45, I’m in the building so early, and I’m there until 5:00 or so. That’s the work week and that has nothing to do with Sundays. At the end of the day, if you’re not a grinder, being a professional athlete is going to be tough for you outside of the competition on game day.
We can all rise to that moment but the work you got to put in whether it be the meetings in football or taking care of your body or traveling, it’ll wear you out if you’re not built for grinding. Everyone’s threshold for whether it be physical tolerance, pain, or the grind of everyday life, something is going to give eventually. For me, I happen to be a grinder so that doesn’t seem to wear me out. I can say the physical side is starting to take its toll. More of where my focus is managing more than, “Can I go to these meetings all day? Can I travel week after week?”
At the same time, the NFL stands for not for long. It’s not a long career and I’ve been blessed to be here for over ten. Some people were like, “You’re not going to be there long.” Whether it be 10, 12, 20 years, the end is coming. For me, what I think about when it comes to the grind is, at some point in the year I’ll be back home and I won’t have to do all that so I can suck it up. The physical stuff is something you got to deal with every day. Something is going to give eventually.
You have a book out called Finish Strong. You’re intense. I want you to share your story. Also, you’re a late bloomer. You play a little bit of football but then you decide in college to play at a big university. That potentially could lend itself to you being here now because you just didn’t do that all the way through high school and then all the way through college. There’s a natural gift to you that you picked it up and then to have rugby as your other sport, which you have to be highly conditioned for, that’s never been an issue for you.
I want to go into a little bit of your story for those people who aren’t aware of it. I was talking to Brian Peters and he said that he was having a conversation with you. A person could read your book as I did and they’re not only in a suck-it-up mentality in a good way but it’s like, “Deal with it and let’s go.” He was saying that within the conversation you were talking about in the competing is the vulnerability. I’m not going to translate things for you. I was curious what that means if that’s the place that you say, “I’m hanging it all out here. I’m living and dying by it.” What did that mean? From the outside, people would look at Nate Ebner and be like, “That guy handles at every turn.”
There’s a lot there. To answer your question about competing is where the vulnerability lies. We got to that point on the idea that to put everything you have out there and you could potentially fail, there’s a lot of vulnerability in that. People talk about that with relationships and putting yourself out there to give someone everything about who you are and whatnot and you could get hurt.
It’s the same thing when you think about competing. If I’m going to put everything out here and give everything I have, there’s still the chance you’re going to lose. How are you going to swallow that when you gave everything you had and it wasn’t enough? It’s a vulnerable state, especially when you come to the highest level of anything. You think about football, there are some monsters and beasts out here and you’re going to take some hells. That’s part of competing.
[bctt tweet=”Competing is where the vulnerability lies.”]
For me, taking the L or losing and being vulnerable is worth the success, it’s worth the potential that I could do well, I could make it work. My whole story is not being afraid of failing. To go back to what you said about not playing football, that allowed me to maybe grind through it a little bit longer than others. I think about the 2016 Olympics and going to play rugby, that break from football was big for me. I don’t think I realized it until I came back because it was refreshing to be back at football. The grind of years and years of doing it over and over again, it’ll wear you out. Having rugby was huge.
At the same time, on the other side of that, I’ve competed at a high level since I was 16. I was on a junior national team and it’s all I know. I’ve grinded my whole life. It’s been something that’s innately in me. With football, walking on it was another opportunity to see what my potential could be. I wasn’t afraid of failing. I always thought, “If I don’t make it, I’ll go play rugby. If I do, I could be in the NFL.” That was something I wanted through college and then I got there. I wanted to play in my rookie year and I wanted to say I’ve made it. Long story short, here we are years later and I’m still playing. It’s worked out but it’s all been because of not fearing failure at the end of the day.
That’s also because you were young. Maybe we could dive into your book. It’s as much based on you as it is your father and your relationship and quite a few of the lessons that you had either being around your dad or from your dad or being in those environments. Sometimes those environments teach us without a bunch of words. First of all, writing a book is not easy. Why did you write a book?
I would go back after the NFL season and I trained at Ohio State and Urban Meyer was the coach there at the time. I had met him a couple of times. I had the year where I went to the Olympics. I came and had a great football season, it was all-pro, and won the Super Bowl. It was a good year. Urban came up to me and was like, “You need to tell your story.” He knew about my dad, about Ohio State, and about me being a walk-on. He heard about the year I had and he was like, “You need to tell your story.” I laughed it off and was like, “Sure.” It’s something I’ve always thought about a little bit.
The following year, I ended up tearing my ACL and I was like, “I’m going to hit him up on that.” I hit him up and here we are. A couple of years later, I got a book out. It was a fun process. It was hard. I didn’t realize how hands-on I needed to be. At first, I kept myself a little distant. The writer would write some stuff. I had to get a new writer because it didn’t work out.
Paul, who wrote the book, we were distant and he wrote some stuff. The voice wasn’t what I wanted it to be. It’s arrogant, which isn’t me. He’s writing from his perspective. I realized, “I need to get my hands in here and I need to dive into every word that’s in this book if I want it to sound the way I want it to sound.” There were a lot of long nights on the phone with him and sitting there on my computer editing stuff that he wrote.
At the end of it, there was a lot but it was fun. For me, the finished product is something I’m happy with and proud of. I hope my family and my dad would appreciate it. I didn’t do it to make other people happy or try to tell a fake story. I told mine and it was genuine and real. I feel good about it. It was a fun process.
Sometimes editing is like remodeling. It’s easier to build it than to remodel it. Sometimes it’s almost easier to write parts of it and be like, “This is what I’m saying,” instead of trying to get in there and rejigger. Especially with tones, the tone of someone’s voice is nuanced. You had an interesting dynamic and childhood. Your parents divorced when you were young. It sounds like your great grandfather, your grandfather, and your dad comes from a pretty intense group.
They’re all junk men.
That’s no joke. For me, that place was as much a character in your life as some of the people in your life. Maybe set up the dynamic about your family life.
I hear what you’re saying. Being in a junkyard is, in my opinion, about as blue-collar as it gets. I would go to school with my mom. I talked about that in the book. She lived in the suburbs and I go to school with her. I’d live with her this normal life then I’d go to Springfield and it is anything but that. My dad treated me like a grown man when I was 14, 15 years old.
I remember he made me get my temps for a scooter so that I could drive. A motorcycle license you can get it when you’re 15 so I could drive to the office myself and then I would open
the office for him. He’d be like, “It’s your responsibility.” That started at a young age. Whether it be opening the office or having a job, I learned early on the accountability to show up every day and work hard. It wasn’t just the work in the junkyard but we’re going to work hard all day in the yard and then we’re going to go work out. We’re going to go run and train. You don’t get to have the day off because you have to do some physical work that day.
For me, I learned early on that this is what you have for the day and no matter what happens along the route, there’s no excuse that you get to tap out of what you set up for yourself and that was something that we did all the time. I do want to say the junkyard was like a playground, it was a cool place for a young kid to grow up in and learn how to drive cars and play paintball and wrecking stuff. It was awesome.
The work ethic stuff will never leave me for the stuff that we did daily. It was a bunch of craziness. It made me not worry about getting my hands dirty. You can always wash your hands and wipe off the sweat and there’s nothing wrong with that. It was a great place to learn work ethic and discipline and get a little grit about myself and learn accountability.
In the book, you get the idea that besides a father and son connection that there’s this language around the discipline and training even, the running and the doing, and of course rugby. Your dad was incredibly passionate about rugby. You were playing with older guys when you were younger. Were those the places that you met? We have relationships with all people that we meet in certain places. Do you think that was where you and your dad met?
There was something else that was like you saying him giving you the responsibility and treating you like an adult. You talked about that he would praise you subtly but in person never embarrass you, uplift you. It sounded beautiful for how intense and tough your dad seemed. I was wondering about the languages and being together and building a framework of a relationship around that environment.
You asked, did I learn from him through those processes and those experiences? That showed me what true authenticity was because he was genuinely the same person. Whether it was work, training, or rugby, he was genuinely himself. There was no facade. Especially nowadays, people don’t even know how to be themselves. I learned from him that it doesn’t matter what we’re doing or who was around, being comfortable in your skin is what it looked like. He was a little too much for me sometimes but that was a great lesson in itself.
In a way, we learned how to work. When it was time to work, we worked. He was like that about everything. The rugby, running hills, all that stuff, he was encouraging. At the end of the day, what was important to him was the toughness to go out and do everything the best that you can and that’s where he left it. All I had to do to make him happy was to put myself out there.
We talked about vulnerability earlier. To put myself out there and give everything I have and see where my line was, whether it be in conditioning where I would fatigue at and see where my standard was to try to push that bar. I knew where my standard was, where my line was, where my max strength was, where my condition was because I would give everything I had. That’s what mattered most.
Personally, to give everything I have, that’s something in me and it was easy to please him and he would confirm that positively. He’d let me know, “Is that the best you can do?” He would never beat me down about stuff. It was always like, “Here’s what I have presented in front of you. Do you want to do it? If not, we don’t have to do it.” He’d say a speech about how everybody else is going to get better in this as an opportunity to get myself to where I need to be and to be one of the best players and all that. I was a willing kid. I wanted to make people happy. From that, I would always say yes. With that, all I had to do was give everything I had and he was encouraging. It was great to see it.
He has a beautiful framework. You say that you spell love a certain way. I appreciated that because your dad showed that as a parent that it was with time. Even though I know he was tough, it’s the amount of time that he invested with you. It didn’t come across just in you, it sounded like your dad was with you. It’s different than, “I’m taking my son here and there.”
He was present in everything that we did. It wasn’t like, “I’ll get you a gift. I’m not around. We’ll watch TV together and not say a word to one another.” When he said time, it was activities. We didn’t have cell phones and stuff back then. Even if we did, he would have been the type to say, “Put it away. We’re doing this.” He’s present.
Another attribute is being a human being that is enticing. It’s something you’d like to see when someone is present when they’re with you and you have their attention and people are drawn to that. He was a good example of that. He was like that with me. “Love is spelled time,” that’s what he would always say. Whether it was us doing an activity together, him coming to support me in an activity I was doing, or going on a vacation, it was time. It was time spent together. It was time diving into each other’s lives.
He was present and was involved in everything that I did. He knew about everything. I think about some of the parents nowadays and they’ve got kids under their roof set, they don’t know what’s going on in their life. They’re with him every night and every day. How present and how deep are you into their actual life? What’s going on? He knew everything because he took that time. Eventually, we were best friends because of that. It all comes back to his actions and spending that time.
You’re married. There’s something interesting that I often wonder about because I’m married and I have three daughters. Pros and cons of any situation, you always want to focus on the pros. Sometimes there’s an interesting dynamic if the parents are not together. In some ways, there does appear at times, especially if the parent helps create the environment for almost more intimacy or that connection with that child.
They tell you as parents, “Be a consolidated front.” You can be close to your kids. One of the pros is that relationship at times between a child and the parent if the parents aren’t together. He had a partner but there’s something interesting about that. Why were you compliant? You’re strong and I’m sure when you went through periods at 13, 14, or 15. Do you think it’s because your dad treated you with so much respect and you believed that this is a good way that you were like, “I’ll go along with this.”
At the end of the day, innately in me, it’s in me to make people happy and make him proud. You look at the dynamics of a father and son, he’s my hero, he’s the guy I look up to. As close as we were together, he have my best interest. I wouldn’t think he would have me do something that was in my best interest. I trusted him with that.
I have belief in what he preached to me every day. He had a consistent message that will span not only days and weeks and months but years. He was consistent with who he was and what he wanted for me. That stuff didn’t change. With that, it’s easy to lean into when you’ve got somebody that you have that trust with and you believe has your best interests at heart. With that, I leaned into it.
[bctt tweet=”Being vulnerable is worth the success. It’s worth the potential that you could do well and you could make it work.”]
To go back to your other point with parents being separated, it is a little bit easier. He could come and see me for a week or two that I was in Springfield or come to Columbus for the night. He’d then go home and he could check out and do his thing with my stepmom and live that life. My mom had me and she got a break. In a way, as long as the parents are together even though they’re separated, their main focus is the child and their time with their parents. In a way, it’s almost a little easier to get intimate in that case. I have friends who have divorced parents and their parents don’t go out of their way to take action and dive into their children’s lives. It’s like, “I got to go pick my kid up.” They do that but they got the iPad in the backseat. They get them home and then they start playing games or go to their room in that house.
He took action and that was a conscious decision that he made every day. Whether your parents are together or not, making a conscious decision to take the time out of your own life to do something with your kids or whatever is extremely important. I can’t understate how important that is not only youth development but to build a strong relationship with your children.
You married your college Sweetheart, Chelsey. Let’s fast forward. Let’s say you guys choose to have a family and have a son. Do you have it in you to be tough on your own kids the way things were tough on you? It’s always interesting to go across the boat, especially you’ve had a certain level of success, you’ve done it at a certain level. Do you ever wonder about that?
I do. My biggest challenge would be not being too hard on them. My dad wasn’t on me. I was also willing. It was a symbiotic relationship in the sense that he would drive me but I would answer the call. I didn’t fight back. I do get weary that I will be such a driver. Something I always think about is that I want my kids or kid that have their own life and I’m not going to dictate what they do. I want to help them in whatever they choose to not only make the right decisions and put them in the best position for success but support them in any way that I can.
The end goal has nothing to do with me. It is not my decision. I’m there to support them and help them reach their potential in whatever that is. I hope I wear people out because there is no mercy in a sense. I’m like, “If this is what we’re setting out to do, we’re doing it until we get there.” Some people don’t see it that way so I can wear them out. I hope I have a little more grace and a little more patience and stuff to have that grace for the child. They might not be like me in that sense. We’ll see. That would be my biggest fear.
I admit I fumbled to where I was in sports on my own because it was an opportunity and nobody pushed me. I married somebody who has a genuine love affair for their own sport. You know this, sports don’t necessarily make you happy. We know plenty of athletes that it may not even bring out the best in them or they’re done at 40 or whatever and then they have all these years after that. They’re either an incomplete person, they didn’t develop the full spectrum.
I didn’t grind out. I have three daughters. My youngest is pushing against it. She’s quite tall, she’s 6’0” and I’m 6’3”. She’s built for volleyball. It’s also the pressure, maybe. I had no pressure. There was nobody. If I went, they were like, “That’s cool. I don’t want to be like you.” I’m like, “I get it.” “I want to do my own thing.”
Your dad created this incredible environment for you that you also responded to. The next years of your whole life, you can trace back to exactly how you’re connected to that. If we put them in this environment, will they do it or vice versa? Daughters are different than sons. I want to talk to you in fifteen years and then see where you’re at with that. You said something interesting which reminds me of a question.
I want to make a point that I feel strongly about. One is that I hope that your kid isn’t doing it for the sole reason, “My mom did and I feel pressure to do that.” Experience it for yourself in whatever experience you have with that. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. If you do, you could be good at it. I think about my dad and rugby, we bonded over rugby but once I started to play, I saw the game in a completely different way than he did. We shared the game but I have my own things I was passionate about with the game. In a way, I felt like I had to live up to his physicalness in the game. That was something in me. They were my own experience, I drew from that.
Overall, I don’t think it’s necessarily sports in general. Sports do such a good job of putting people in an uncomfortable place where they have to find out who they are and how much they want something and how hard they’re willing to work. It’s cut and dry with sports. It pushes your boundaries and makes you uncomfortable. That’s the best thing about sports to me.
I don’t necessarily think sports is the only thing that can do that. There are many things in our lives that we can experience that can push you and make you uncomfortable and find out about yourself and find out all kinds of things that might be a different experience altogether. You need to find that through the processes of getting uncomfortable and understanding what work ethic is.
I don’t want to be a junk man. I don’t want to work in a junkyard the rest of my life but I found out what it’s like to get your hands dirty and work hard all day. Those experiences taught me what it is to work and grind. It doesn’t have to be sports. It could be anything. It’s those fundamentals, those 3character building things that you have this strong foundation as a person that you can lean on whenever you’re doing whatever you choose to do in your life and that’s what’s important to find.
I agree with that. You’re correct, we have to create a framework where we can navigate challenges. It’s the way it is. What’s interesting is your children will grow up and their father will have won Super Bowls and played in the NFL. There’s something interesting that you won’t understand because you didn’t grow up with that and you won’t know until they’re here. We think, “I gave them the opportunity. I provided them here. I’m here for all these things.” It’s interesting, especially if it’s a son where you weren’t born into a situation where they had a father that outwardly succeeded so much. That is always an interesting lesson.
I think about that with my upbringing. My dad plays minor level rugby but at the end of the day, he was a junkyard man. I had those experiences because he was a junkyard guy. I got to go to the junkyard and learn about that. If I had a kid, I don’t have a junkyard to take him to, get his hands dirty, and teach him what hard work is. I think about those things.
It’s not only that side of the discipline and work ethic but also I won’t be able to relate to someone whose parent has achieved a lot in most people’s eyes. That’s on me to make them understand that what other people see me as doesn’t hold any weight, that doesn’t matter, that doesn’t pay my rent. It’s cool. I’ve had success.
At the end of the day, the person that I am and what I do on a day-to-day basis, how I work, how I go about life, how I treat other people, that’s the important stuff. That’s what my foundation is based on and I hope that’s what my child has a good foundation in. It’s not about reaching success so people like you. I want to instill that in them that doesn’t matter at all.
I don’t think you’re going to come across as somebody who’s trying to impress anybody. To me, you come across as hard-working and there for a purpose. Your modeling will be no problem. I heard this question once and you’re the only other person besides one other person that I thought that this pertains to. You’re on a mission and you’re on a program.
Do people have to be along for the ride in that way because you don’t have that much time? I’ve experienced that with Laird where Laird is on a mission and there’s only so much time to get in what I see to do. If you’re going to be my friend, we’re going to have to train together or something because we got to go, we got to roll.
My wife could speak to that, the sacrifices that she’s made through the stuff that I’ve chosen to do with my life. At the end of the day, everything in my life has taught me that if I want to succeed, because I’ve gone through this being my formula and here I am in this space in between and I know what I believe I have to do, I’m going to do everything in my ability to do those things. If it doesn’t work out, I don’t want to have regret in the sense that I could have done things differently or I could have tried harder. If it doesn’t work out, it didn’t work out because it wasn’t meant to be. It had nothing to do with me. I gave everything I had to it and I can sleep at night knowing that.
With that type of belief and process, anyone who’s involved in my life needs to understand that about me because I will sacrifice everything. I say in my book that if you want anything in life, you can achieve it if you’re willing to sacrifice everything. If I am truly driven to achieve something, I will sacrifice everything. People in my life understand that about me. If you don’t understand that about me, you would find that out. I’m unwavering when it comes to things like that. I won’t compromise with the effort and the plan. It would be tough. I appreciate my wife so much for what she has done to keep us together. She’s the best.
[bctt tweet=”It doesn’t matter what you are doing or who is around you, be comfortable in your skin.”]
I have a friend who’s in pursuit of a mission in a different way. I asked his wife because she works with his business and stuff and there are a lot of moving parts and she’s like, “I believe in the mission.” For somebody who gets to be around someone like you who is willing to put it all on the line because not many people are, a lot of people can get behind that because it is unique. Also, it can be misunderstood or lonely meaning a lot of people can’t hang around. It’s interesting that you have both. You’ll have people that are like, “I’m on board.” You’ll be moving through and a lot of people won’t be able to stick around. It takes a special person, a unique type of person that can do that.
I agree that the person with you needs to see and believe in what you’re doing or else they’re going to become a distraction and it’s going to become a problem rather than someone supporting you. You need that support through the tough stuff you go through when you’re trying to achieve something special. That is important and I see it the same way.
We always show our partners or the closest people the real stuff. What would you say that she, as your partner, can manage around? What’s the dance that makes that work?
From me, I can get obsessive. I won’t stop thinking about my end goal, something that’s in the way or something I’ve got to do. For me, she is a distraction. The best thing for me is she’s not super needy or anything like that. I’m the quiet one and she’s the talkative one. When I come home, I get to hear about all the things she’s got going on in her life, which that’s something that’s important to me. Something that’s important to me in finding a partner was that they had their own life. They weren’t living through me because the energy you put into your day to achieve that goal to come home and have somebody waiting to suck more energy out of you is hard.
It was important to me that she has her own life and into her own thing that she’s trying to achieve in what she does. With that, the balance is I get to listen to her tell me about all those things and it’s a distraction from stuff. She doesn’t ask me a whole lot about what I have unless she can tell I want to talk about it. For me, she’s a refreshing distraction because I can be obsessive.
It’s funny you bring that up because I was in training camp here and came out a couple of weeks kind of late to the season and she was back in Ohio and was waiting to come out. I was dealing with some injuries coming in late getting ready. I can be my own worst enemy when I’m in a room by myself when I’m not at work. When I get the work, I’m good because I can do it but when I’m sitting there, I can overthink it because I don’t have enough distractions. She’s been great to me for that.
Do you have fun?
Do I have fun with what?
The fact that you even asked. This is not judgment. This is a joke in my house. My husband knows. He goes to bed at 8:30 or whatever but I’m also in a certain way a different kind of grinder. He’s like, “There’s the goat. She’s on the path. She’s down the road.” “Let’s take a spontaneous turn.” He’s like, “Nope. There goes the goat. She’s still on the path.” Do you know how to be like, “Have fun.”
No. I’m not good at that. I do. I like to compete even in a friendly way. I like to play golf. My friends and I will do some stuff. We’ll make it a competition, but it’s always a friendly competition. I probably wouldn’t go out to dinner if it wasn’t for my wife. I like to do ski trips and snowboarding and things like that. I’m more of an adventure seeker than I am someone looking to have fun.
No frivolous fun.
My mom is always like, “You won the Super Bowl. You should be more excited about it.” I’m like, “I am and it’s great.” When I think of the successes, it’s more than the moment of the success. It’s the accumulation of all the work, the days, and the dreaming about it before you even got the position to do it and the hurdles you had to go through in the process. Reaching it and believing you would reach it is the satisfaction that I have is that I believed I gave everything I had and I did it, or I was a part of a great team and we achieved greatness.
I’ve never been a jump for joy and cheer for the loudest one in the room. That’s never going to be me. I find happiness and enjoy through probably deeper level meanings of things. I love to watch movies. My brother is a pretty smart dude but we’d love to sit and talk about the movie that we saw. I get joy out of that. I don’t know why. It’s all in my own way and probably different from others.
First of all, do you have a favorite movie? I knew you were a movie buff? Do you have an all-time favorite movie? How about the top three? Let’s not have you choose.
Blade Runner 2049, The Matrix, the first one, and I probably go with either Inception or Interstellar right in there and maybe Sicario. I will give you my top five. I like that movie a lot. I like suspenseful movies. I like deep and detailed movies. I appreciate the work that goes into making those movies as good as they are, the detail that went into the dialogue and everything. Rom Coms are for me. We can do without that dialogue or not or this scene. Those don’t do anything for me. You get two hours to do it. Pack it in and let’s see what you can come up with. That’s what I love about movies.
As a partner, boyfriend, now husband, you have systems that work for you. I always love talking to people who know certain things that work for them. As you get moving through life a little bit kind of you learn new things and you make these small tweaks or adjustments. Is there anything as a partner or husband that you go like, “I used to do it like this, but now I’ve learned that this kind of works better?”
The first thing that comes to mind is the understanding that everyone doesn’t think like I do. I can wear people out and I can grind them up because that’s how I do it. I need to give a little more, and I don’t even want to say empathy because I am empathetic when it calls for being empathetic. My wife wants me to be empathetic because her nail got cracked on the table or something.
To me, there are major things that deserve empathy. We’ve talked about love languages, how I perceive love, and how I perceive my dad’s example of spending time with someone and things like that. That is a love language and that’s how I perceive someone else loving me or giving me love. Unconsciously you reciprocate it the way that you want it but people see love differently than you so you need to learn how they perceive love and give them what they want as love not because you expect it a certain way that they expected the same way.
That’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned. I have things that are important to me and Chelsea has things that are different and important to her. I need to show her the love that she deserves. I need to do what she wants, not how I think it should go. There is compromise in that. At the end of the day, if you do love someone, you want to make them happy so you want to do the things that make them happy and you find out about that person. It’s learning to love them.
If your partner will say something reasonable that you go, “Why wouldn’t I work on that?” They’re not being unreasonable or demanding. Sometimes when people go in, even with the attitude of like, “Yes, I will try,” that ends up being half of it. I would be remiss not to get into something more technical.
People’s problem with that is when you, “Can you work on this?” In a way, they take it personally and they make it about them, but it’s about making the other person happy. It’s not that you have a problem with you, “That’s what I would like and that’s what would make me happy. That’s fine. I wouldn’t do it that way. I’m not saying you’re right or I’m right but that’s what you want so I’ll do it that way so I’ll deal with that.”
I’m an only child so my husband is more tactile. It’s like, “I love you. I’ll organize your whole life for you and have everything dialed for you,” but he’s like, “If I put my hands on him…” I’m like, “That’s reasonable. I can do that.” To your point. We are not doing what they’re asking for. The fact that they’re willing to ask is a pretty great thing because they’re showing and they’re, they’re being vulnerable.
You have performed for so many years, I need to ask some kind of technical questions because it’s an opportunity. With your food or your training and your off-season, it’s different. You’re not trying to thrive in football in the middle of a competitive season. You’re trying to stay, keep it together and keep performing week after week. In your off-season, do you take off a period of time to recover and get back at it hard to try to make gains? What does that look like for you?
I like to think that I do but I reflect honestly about my off-seasons. I go so hard and it’s been me. To a fault, it’s been to my detriment in a way when I look at where I’m at now. My body does feel more worn out than it typically does and you wonder about going hard in all those off-seasons doing all the things that I did. In the 2016 off-season, straight from the AFC championship, two weeks later, going to train with the Olympics, going a whole season doing that straight into another NFL season. There was no break.
In 2020, I went out to go train again but COVID canceled the Olympics. I did it again in 2020. Not even half the time in New England, almost every year we went to at least the AFC Championship, which ended at the end of January, if not the Super Bowl at the end of February. The off-season program starts in early April. Now that I had a lot of rest if I’m being honest but I wouldn’t change it. That’s who I am. Grinding is how I’ve had success. I probably wouldn’t change even if I knew it was better for me. I took more time away from pounding and running.
For me, everyone’s different. My issues have been my knees. The hard decelerations, the squat and super heavy, doing DB drills over and over again, banging my head against the. As I’ve gotten older, you’ve got to have trust in your skillset and your fundamentals of stuff you’ve worked on for years and that it is riding a bike and you will come back. After a couple of reps, you have to have trust in that. If not, you wear yourself thin.
[bctt tweet=”It’s more than the moment of success. It’s the accumulation of all the work, the days, and the dreaming about it before you even got the position to do it and the hurdles you had to go through in the process.”]
The hardest thing for me is to back off the training because I have not known any other way my entire life. I need to know it’s for the right reasons. I’ve always loved the weight room. It’s something that I’ve been around my whole life with my dad and I’ll always be someone who lifts weights. I’ve always done that in all seasons and maintained my strength.
With a rugby background, having a cardiovascular base is pretty heavy. I feel that’s important to me too. I’ve always been pretty good with that. I’m a bit of an overtrainer if I had to have to be honest. When it comes to nutrition, if there’s anything in life I’d say I’m pretty blessed with it’s that I can pretty much eat anything and not have any issues.
My wife’s done a lot of fitness stuff with making plans, diet plans, training programs, or whatnot so I’ve done some dice with her. I’ve come to find for me doing the type of a Keto-ish diet where I’m kind of lower on the car but I’m heavy on the fats and stuff. Especially early in the day, my energy level is like, holds out way longer than if I had pancakes for breakfast. I’d want to crash by 8:30 AM or 9:00 AM. I’d be ready for a nap.
I’ve learned that about myself but at the end of the day, nutrition is something I’ve been pretty lucky with that I can kind of eat whatever and I can eat as much as I want. It’s hard for me to gain weight. If there’s one thing I was blessed with it was that. I can eat whatever I want. Aside from that, managing my health, especially in the last few years and as you have injuries and rehab, I’ve had everything under the sun and it’s getting yourself in a place that come season, you are the best version of you. It’s not putting yourself back in the off-season because you’re doing too much that the season’s going to be that much harder for you to perform at a high level because you’ve done too much so well. It’s a fine balance.
It’s keeping that momentum but not doing so much that you’re making it impossible. Are there other athletes that have gone to the Olympics while actively being in the NFL? Not pro sports. I know that Deion played baseball. I mean Olympics and NFL as you have.
I know there were some people who played in the NFL and then they went to the Olympics or they went to the Olympics and then they played in the NFL. I’m not sure that there are any active players who are under contract that was playing football. For instance, they left to go to the Olympics and then came back under the same contract, especially not winning the Super Bowl. I do know that.
They got permission from Belichick to go and play in the Olympics. I’ve read in your book, he said that you were a top 5% of the athletes that he’s coached.
He said I’m top whatever percent of the athletes that he’s coached from where they started when he first got them to the growth that they’ve had from where they were later in their careers. I had a lot of growth as a player. That was one of the more memorable players.
I do think it was 5%. From a guy like that, that’s saying a lot. In the book, Finish Strong, you can frame it in whatever way is comfortable for you, your dad passed away many years ago.
It was 2008. A robbery has gone wrong in the junkyard. They got physical and he ended up dying of brain trauma. That was right before I walked onto the football team at Ohio State. I was 19.
Someone like you who is stoic, how do you deal with that? Did you get angry? Even in the book, you’re stoic about it. Where did you put that?
I know I had a lot of trouble early on. He was my best friend. You have your friends, but I’d say this all the time, I’d put our father-son relationship up against anyone. It was a special bond. I was extremely angry for a good month. I was in a bad place. I had someone ask me about this. They said, “What’s your favorite part of the book?” I said, “I’d have to say my mom. What she said to me when I was in that dark place, telling me that he wouldn’t want that for me and that he would want me to live a life that he’d be proud of. He would hate to see my life be ruined because he was gone.”
The strength that that took for her to conjure those words to her son who lost his dad, his best friend. She was in tears. She could have easily just called on me and said it’s going to be okay. I could have been angry and she could have just let me be, but she was strong enough to say what I needed to hear in a moment that I desperately needed it. Because of that, I hurt her and I was on a mission ever since that conversation to live a life he would be proud of.
She definitely sparked that flame for me to go that route. Had she not said that to me, maybe I do go the wrong way. I thought many times about going back to the junkyard because we used to chase robbers. I thought I’d go get some myself and take it out on them. I dropped out of school there for a second because I couldn’t study and she put me on course. Everything that my dad had taught me to that point was the engine to drive me through on the road that I needed to be on, but she put me on that path. Without her and her strength, I don’t know where I would be. That was one of the biggest moments in my life.
As a movie buff, have you ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding? It may be too silly for you.
I have not seen that.
They have a character, the dad who’s Greek, and he Windexes everything. The kid is like, “I have a cut,” and he Windexes it. Windex fixes everything and it made me think of your dad with his duct tape.
If it was sports, it was athletic tape. If it was in the junkyard, put more grease in it. He was simple when it came to stuff like that. If it was around the house that needed to fix, duct tape can fix it. At the end of the day, that speaks to his idea of, if it works, it’s good enough. If the car starts and drives and stops, it’s good enough. If the bed is warm enough at night, it’s good enough.
There were certain things for him that most things in life, it was clear what needed to be good enough, and then there were things in life that there’s no compromise. That came to your work, how you treat people, and the type of person you are. He would go hard, but some things don’t matter. Duct tape was a good example. Just put some duct tape on and it’ll be fine.
Nate, I appreciate you putting your story in your book in Finish Strong. I know that takes a lot of work. You are a stellar example of what’s possible because a lot of the stuff you’ve done seems almost impossible. It’s important because a lot of times, people are afraid to be that direct about, “This is what I’m doing. I’m not wavering and I’m not compromising. It is hard. I’ll grind it out.” You not only do it in NFL, but then you go ahead and do it in rugby as well. I appreciate your time. When it’s all done and said, who knows how many years out, do you think you want to coach? You have to.
I would be good at coaching. I don’t know that that’s where my heart is at, though. Once the dust settles, everything clears, I’m at home, and I find out what I’m passionate about, that’s going to be important. I need to reflect on what type of life I want to live. Is it a life spent working 6:00 AM till 6:00 PM grinding on football? I don’t know what it is. I’ve spent a lot of my life in football. There’s so much to experience in this world that I would hate to look back when I’m 6 years old and all I’ve experienced is a football playbook.
I’m going to have to do some reflecting, but I need to figure out the life I want to live. That could be staying at home, being the best husband and hopefully father that I can be, and giving everything I have to that. Or it could be I’m someone who needs to be busy and I want to see what I can achieve and I’m motivated to do that. I can’t answer that until the time comes. I’m excited about that next chapter when it does come and find out more about myself because that’s what life is about, finding out who you are and what you’re capable of. It’ll be the next chapter that I’m looking forward to.
Have you ever been in a movie? Has anyone put you in a movie?
I have not been in a movie.
You need to at least go be on a movie. That’ll be fun.
I’ll look into it.
There might be too much waiting around for you.
We’ll see. That would be cool. I’m not opposed to it.
I appreciate your time and I appreciate your story.
No worries. I’m glad I could tell it. I’m glad I got off to a point where I had the platform to even tell a story like that. I told Brian, “I don’t see myself as a special person.” I see life and people on a spectrum, athletes on a spectrum. There are people who are born who can’t walk and they’re just born that way. There are people on the other end of the spectrum who can eat whatever they want and they cannot lift weights, and they’re going to be as strong as they can be because genetics made them that way. I don’t think I’m on that end. I’m probably somewhere closer to that end. I’m somewhere in the middle.
The work that I put into my life can dictate a lot of that. I’m normal in that regard that you do have a say in the outcome. You do have a say in what can be changed and how you influence your own life. There’s a spectrum for people’s mental fortitude and I happen to be on the one end of that. I’m willing to go through a lot mentally and that has been a strength of mine and something I’ve leaned on. Because of that, I’ve been able to achieve some cool stuff. I’m glad I got to a place where I had the platform to be able to tell that story.
There’s going to be a lot of people who have had a loss and it’s that reminder. You’re applying it in football and rugby, but these ideas and such can be applied to so many things.
I totally agree.
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About Nate Ebner
Nate’s first appearance with the U.S. National 7’s team was at age 16 where he was invited to camp for the World Series Circuit. At 17, Nate was the youngest player at the U19 Junior World Cup in Dubai in 2006. He was named MVP of the tournament for The United States his next two Junior World Cups in 2007 in Ireland and 2008 in Wales.
Despite not having played high school football, in his junior year of college he then walked on to and played college football for the Ohio State Buckeyes. In 36 career college games, he had 30 tackles as a special teams player from 2009–11. Nate was chosen by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft. He has played for the team since 2012, winning Super Bowl XLIX with the team for the 2014 season. In 2016, Nate was one of 12 players selected to represent the United States Rugby Sevens team for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The team finished 9th, with a 3-2 record.