Nate Ebner’s decision to write a book about his life was inspired by a coach he’s never actually played for.
Ebner’s final season at Ohio State was in 2011, which meant he exited the program just as Urban Meyer was taking over as the Buckeyes’ new head coach. Nonetheless, Ebner and Meyer bonded as Ebner returned to Ohio State to train during his NFL offseasons. And as Meyer learned more about Ebner’s life story, the then-Ohio State coach thought Ebner should share that story with the world.
“To be quite honest, it wasn’t really something I was thinking I wanted to do or would do, but through the offseasons of going back to Ohio State and training, Urban and I crossed paths quite a few times and eventually, at one point after the Olympics, having an All-Pro year and winning the Super Bowl, Urban was like, ‘You need to write a book,’” Ebner recalled. “And I kind of laughed at it, but it was cool that he thought that. And then the following year, 2017, I was having a pretty good year but ended up tearing my ACL in November against the Dolphins, and when I had that time to think about what I wanted to do in that timeframe as I was rehabbing, I thought ‘This would be a good time to write that book Urban was suggesting I do.’”
That book, which includes a foreword from Meyer, was released on Tuesday. Titled “Finish Strong,” the book – which Ebner wrote with sportswriter Paul Daugherty – details Ebner’s journey from growing up playing rugby to joining the Ohio State football team as a walk-on, playing in the NFL and eventually returning to the rugby pitch to play in the Olympics.
Above all else, “Finish Strong” is about Ebner’s relationship with his father Jeff, who was Ebner’s idol and best friend until he was murdered during a robbery attempt at his auto salvage yard in 2008.
Jeff Ebner never got to see his son play football for the Buckeyes – the attack happened just one day after Nate told his father he was going to walk on at Ohio State and pursue an NFL career – but the lessons Nate learned from his father have inspired everything he’s accomplished since, and that’s the biggest thing he hopes readers will take away from the book.
“I hope parents read this book,” Ebner told Eleven Warriors. “I think I had the greatest leader of all-time in my dad, and a lot of that book speaks to that relationship. I think there’s a lot of great talk about how to build strong relationships and a strong foundation with your children just through the experiences I talk about. There’s no special recipe; it’s just spending time with your children and giving them all the love that you have.”
Ebner also hopes “Finish Strong” inspires readers to chase after their dreams and appreciate the value of hard work. As Ebner details in the book, life as an Ohio State walk-on wasn’t easy, and few people believed his goal of playing in the NFL was actually realistic. Even once he made the team at Ohio State, he often felt overlooked in contrast to the team’s scholarship players. Yet by refusing to be outworked, Ebner emerged as a special teams standout for the Buckeyes and was ultimately selected by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft.
“I hope when someone reads this, they realize I am a normal dude that was willing to work hard, and that allowed me to do great things and have great experiences because of the work I was willing to put in,” Ebner said. “I am a genuine believer that you can have whatever you want and do whatever you want if you’re willing to sacrifice everything. But you have to be willing to sacrifice everything. It needs to be the No. 1 ultimate priority, and if it is, and you’re really willing to give up everything in order to make that come true, you can make it happen.”
The book’s release comes as Ebner is training with the U.S. National Rugby Team with his sights set on playing in the Olympics again this summer. While Ebner chose to pursue a football career after realizing he wouldn’t be able to make a living playing rugby unless he moved overseas, his passion for the sport he grew up playing with his dad has never left, which is why he chose to return to the sport to play in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Returning to rugby after years away from the sport proved to be more difficult than Ebner anticipated the first time around, and he initially wasn’t sure whether he’d return for another Olympic run. Eventually, though, Ebner felt compelled to rejoin the team for another chance to compete for a medal and play the sport he loves most.
“Ultimately, I don’t know how much longer my NFL career’s going to be,” Ebner said. “This will be my 10th year in the league. And I’m sitting here thinking about ‘I don’t know how much longer I’m even going to play.’ If that’s the case, and I’ve only got a couple more years left of playing professional sports, I need to just empty the tank.
“What’s more important to me: A couple more years of playing football, or another shot at maybe getting a medal in the Olympics? I really reflected on that, and I think trying to win a medal is huge. I think when I reflect on the first Olympics in ‘16, or just really my entire athletic career, one of the things a bit out of my control that bothers me is people will come up to me and be like, ‘Oh, are you the guy that won a gold medal at the Olympics is rugby?’ And I’m like, ‘No. I didn’t win a gold medal.’ They don’t mean to taunt me or whatever. They just think that, right? And I know in my heart, I’m like, we didn’t medal. We should have medaled. And that doesn’t sit well with me.
“And philosophically, it just kind of comes down to who I am as a person, what I’ve done my whole life. It’s kind of like ‘If I can, I must.’ And I think that’s kind of what led me there. There’s really not much else to think about. And I love playing rugby.”
“I hope when someone reads this, they realize I am a normal dude that was willing to work hard, and that allowed me to do great things and have great experiences because of the work I was willing to put in.”– Nate Ebner on his new book Finish Strong
Assuming Ebner makes the 12-man roster, he’ll head to Tokyo with the national team in July. Following the conclusion of the Olympic rugby sevens competition, which is scheduled for July 26-28, Ebner hopes to return to the New York Giants for his second year with the Giants and 10th NFL season overall. While Ebner is not currently under contract with the team, the Giants have said they fully support his effort to play in the Olympics, just as Bill Belichick and the Patriots did in 2016.
“If I have the year that I wish to have, it’s stay healthy, play through the Olympics and then have an opportunity to go back to the New York Giants and have a great football season,” Ebner said. “If everything were to go as planned, yeah, that’s how it would go.”
“Finish Strong” is now available in bookstores and to order online. More information about the book and where you can buy it can be found on the publisher's website.