You'll excuse Eric Waters if he's a little wary of the media right now.
Sam, of course, announced he was gay prior to the NFL Combine, instantly becoming one of the biggest sports stories of the year.
As Sam's roommate at Missouri, Waters wasn't surprised by the announcement or anything that followed. And he wasn't shy about calling out some of his former Missouri teammates for what he thought was hypocrisy when it came to Sam.
"Half of y'all posting these pics saying how proud you are," Waters wrote on Twitter in the days following Sam's decision to come out, "but most of y'all were the ones talkin' (expletive) on him behind his back in the locker room."
Waters isn't one to hold his tongue.
And, like Sam, he just wants an opportunity to play football in the NFL.
On this day, he's sitting on a stool in front of his locker having some lunch following a practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had a tough go of it in the morning session, getting chewed out by tight ends coach James Daniel for missing an assignment. Understandably he's a little cautious when approached, looking up from his salad sheepishly.
He figures there are more questions about Sam coming his way.
Instead, the focus is on Waters and how a 6-3, 244-pound tight end who ran a 4.70 40 and has shown soft hands wasn't more of a factor for the Tigers. Waters caught just 8 passes for 72 yards in 2013, and had just 14 receptions in his career.
"Being targeted less than 10 times in a season, in all reality, it sucks," said Waters, not pulling any punches. "That's especially true when you have a tight end with my kind of athleticism. You seriously begin to wonder, ‘What is wrong with me?'
"But I had faith in my hands. I know I can probably catch better than everybody that was on that team. That's just me. That's just my confidence level. I think if your confidence level isn't high, it will never be."
Waters wasn't used much as a receiver because he was so good at other things, namely blocking. But he was the star of Missouri's pro day, being timed as low as 4.58 seconds in the 40 by some, while showing off a 39 1/2–inch vertical leap.
Despite the strong workout, he went undrafted. Teams couldn't pull the trigger on a player with 14 career receptions.
But the Steelers had seen enough to know that maybe Waters was right. Perhaps he hadn't been used to the best of his ability. They made him a priority free agent and signed the undrafted rookie.
Waters jumped at the opportunity to work with Steelers tight end Heath Miller.
"I grew up watching Heath go out there play like he has for years," Waters said. "Now, being able to go out there with him and learn from him, it's probably the biggest gift I've been given. This is a guy I grew up watching. I idolized the guy, especially in high school. In college, I was watching this guy do amazing things. Now I get a chance to watch him and learn from him. A guy like that never steers you in the wrong direction."
Waters sees himself as a combination tight end in the mold of Miller, able to block and catch the ball equally well.
The blocking part was one thing he got plenty of opportunities to do at Missouri.
"That was huge," Waters said. "I did have the ability to put that on film in college that I could block. I could block some of the best defensive linemen in the SEC. That's one thing I was very thankful for. Our running game went for a lot of yards. We had one running back who was well over 1,000 yards and two guys that were really close."
He relishes the opportunity to show he's more than just another blocker. In fact, he acknowledges he has a chip on his shoulder the size of a boulder.
"Definitely ," Waters said. "Once I do get that opportunity at this level, it will be showing everybody else that (Missouri) had a weapon that was never used. It's definitely a huge chip. At this level, you either know you belong or you'll quickly get the sense that you can't hang with these guys. Me, I feel like I belong.
"When you dream about something since you were five years old, to make it, that's an accomplishment in itself. But once you accomplish that one goal, you still have many more to go. Now, it's about making the 53-man roster, it's about playing, whether it be on special teams or offense, whatever I can contribute to this team, I'm trying to do it."
(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)