Whenever Martin Rucker needs motivation for his dream to make the National Football League, he knows whom to call.
Rucker, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound redshirt freshman tight end at Missouri, is the brother of Mike Rucker, a star defensive end for the Carolina Panthers. Rucker said his older brother’s success benefits his work ethic and pursuit of the same goal.
“It does a lot,” he said. “He’s got a lot of things that I want and just tells me every day, every time I talk to him, ‘Just keep grinding and doing what you have to do. That’s what got me here, and that’s how you get here.’
“That’s kind of good for me because it helps me focus more so I can work out of his shadow and make my own legacy.”
Rucker began creating a legacy outside of his brother’s shadow when he elected to attend Missouri. Mike Rucker, who had 73 tackles and a team-high 12 sacks for the Panthers in 2003, played on Nebraska’s national championship teams in 1995 and 1997, compiling 17 1/2 sacks in his career.
Because Rucker wanted to play in a system that used its tight ends as receivers, he selected Missouri instead of the Cornhuskers. The Missouri tight ends combined for 42 catches last season, led by J.D. McCoy’s 21.
“It came down to what I wanted to be and where I wanted to go,’’ Rucker said. “I want to be a pass-catching tight end, and I want to go to the NFL. And Nebraska doesn’t really throw the ball, as everybody knows.”
Even though Nebraska has since hired Bill Callahan as coach and will use a West Coast-style offense, it’s too late in Rucker’s opinion.
“I like it here,’’ he said. “I like it here a lot. I like everybody here. I wouldn’t change anything that I do.”
Rucker finds himself in an intense competition for playing time. Seniors Clint Matthews and Victor Sesay return and have some starting experience, and sophomore Dequincy Howard played in nine games last season. Rucker also will face competition from fellow redshirt freshman Josh Barbo.
“It ensures whoever gets the top spot is going to be the right guy for the job,” Rucker said. “So many guys competing that if you don’t step up, somebody else is going to. That’s how it’s going to work out.
“I’ve been through here all summer, didn’t miss a day of workouts, nothing like that. I was out here running and grinding with all these guys every day, so it’s going to be interesting to see what happens.”
To help himself earn playing time, Rucker has used his brother’s experiences as resources.
“He gives me little tricks, things that tight ends in the league do, that guys that are already there, things that work for them and stuff like that I can use to my advantage,” he said.
“He taught me a couple moves. He tells me basic things, to get under people, make field leverage. He said leverage is a lot of the thing because I’m kind of undersized right now. He says a lot of the tight ends in the league are undersized, and the game is really all about leverage.”
Despite being undersized, Rucker’s physical attributes won’t hurt his cause, tight ends coach Bruce Walker said.
“He’s a no doubter,” Walker said. “He will be a great receiving tight end here, I think.
“He’s like every single other player we’ve got out there. They’ve got to get better at every little single they’re required to do at their position, but he does have kind of a natural knack for getting open and feeling space. He’s got great hands. He’s one of those guys that are kind of blessed. That can be a bit of a God-given gift, to be able to have the good hand-eye coordination, and he’s been blessed with that.”