COLUMBIA — Ever since Eric Waters walked onto campus, he's been hearing the comparisons.
"He's the next Martin Rucker. He's the next great tight end."
For more on the Missouri tight ends go to the Missourian's Tiger sports blog.
Waters, a freshman, is modest, but he understands why people find him similar to Rucker, a first-team All-American in 2007 for the Tigers.
Waters is big, just like Rucker. His hands are pillow soft, just like Rucker's. Both men run like they are 30 pounds lighter and have warm, fan-friendly personalities. The similarities go further — Waters was ranked the 27th best tight end recruit in the nation by Rivals.com in 2010, Rucker was ranked 28th in 2004. If the comparisons are accurate, and Waters, who is fourth on the Tigers' current depth chart, is the next Martin Rucker, he has the perfect mentor to guide him through his Missouri career — Rucker.
Waters graduated Mansfield Summitt High School in Arlington, Texas, early to join the Tigers for spring practice. During spring practices, Rucker came by.
Since that point Waters says he and Rucker talk on the phone or text each other two or three times a week, and Waters picks Rucker's mind on how to deal with the day-to-day grind of being a Tigers tight end.
"He goes through everything with me, tells me what I need to look out for, what I need to do to prepare myself to be in the field," Waters said. "He's never steered me wrong."
One of the off-the-field preparations Rucker suggested has been vital to Waters' success in impressing Missouri coaches. Waters came into spring camp at 215 pounds. Rucker advised him to work hard in the weight room. Waters put on what coaches call "good weight" adding 15 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame.
Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Yost flashes a smile when talking about Waters. Certainly having potential first-string players deep on the depth chart makes Yost's job a bit easier.
"He (Waters) has the athleticism of Rucker," Yost said. "A lot of what Rucker could do is after he caught the football, it wasn't always 50 or 60 yards, but he got us the one or two yards extra that we needed. I think Eric has that."
Still, it took Rucker two years to become an impact player with the Tigers, redshirting his freshman season and then increasing his number of catches in each of the four years he wore 82 for the Tigers.
Yost is hoping Waters' performance in camp forces him to use the freshman in the tight end rotation, making it go four deep. Even if Waters is still fourth string by the time Missouri travels to play Illinois on Sept. 4 in St. Louis, contributions to special teams could help Waters bypass a redshirt. However, because Rucker redshirted, taking a year off be another cosmic, inevitable outcome for Waters.
"(Playmaking ability) is something that Martin gained over time, and he got better and better at," Yost said. "I don't expect Eric to be that guy right away, but the sooner we can get him there, the better."
Waters, who is as humble to a point of self-deprecation, said he still has a long way to go if he wants to be the next great Missouri tight end, but he doesn't want to let his newfound big brother and coach, Rucker, down.
"It motivates me, here's an NFL player talking to me and trying to help me and guide me along," Waters said. "He sees something that he had in me. It's real encouraging.
"The only thing I can do is hope to be as good as Martin Rucker and be an All-American. I still have a huge amount to learn."