Rucker Hoping For Early Call On NFL Draft Day

Thursday, November 1st 2007, 1:41 pm
By: News On 6

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) _ Martin Rucker, better known as T to teammates, looked almost sheepish.

That's hard to do for someone who stands 6'6, weighs 255 pounds and drags four and five tacklers behind him like the train of a wedding dress.

``I haven't told anybody this,'' said Rucker, who is averaging more pass receptions (6.75) and more yards (73.88) per game than any other tight end in college football. ``But one of the things that goes through my head in the weight room. ... What do you want to be? Do you want to be a first-day guy or a second-day guy?''

He's talking National Football League draft status here.

Then Rucker slaps five, 10 more pounds on the bar.

``First-day weight, second-day weight? First-round weight, second-round weight?''

The draft and where he might be taken next year is a subject Rucker normally avoids.

``It's not about, 'Oh, this is a catch for me. I've got to do this for my future,''' Rucker said. ``It's about, 'This is where we are in this football game, and I have to get these yards so we can win this football game.'''

That attitude is part of the reason Missouri is ranked No. 9 in the nation, why the Tigers are 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big 12 Conference heading into Saturday.

But make no mistake. Part of the reason Rucker has more pass receptions (54) for more yards (591) right now than he's ever had at Missouri is because of something Rucker took very personally.

It was January. Semester break. Rucker was at home in St. Joseph, Mo., when the telephone rang. Martin Rucker Sr. was on the other end saying someone from the NFL had called.

Rucker had been waiting for this seemingly all his athletic life. The NFL annually evaluates potential draftees and _ as a service to college underclassmen who may be thinking about entering the draft as juniors _ projects their potential position in the selection order.

So Rucker called the number his dad had given him. A woman answered.

``She said fifth round,'' Rucker said.

Fifth round? Are you kidding? Rucker had caught 53 passes for 511 yards and five touchdowns.

In three seasons as a Tiger, Rucker had averaged 11.3 yards per pass reception.

``I was really upset,'' Rucker said.

Rushing into his mind were criticisms he'd heard whispered about his pro prospects.

``They say I'm not tough, they say I'm not physical,'' Rucker said.

Only nobody is saying that anymore. After a summer spent transforming both body and will, Rucker is a changed football player. Perhaps twice the football player he was.

``He's a beast,'' said Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, who sometimes gives way in the shotgun so Rucker can take a direct snap and make like a short-yardage running back.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon lived with Rucker in Columbia last summer and has seen the transformation firsthand.

``Now it takes about five or six guys to get that guy down,'' Weatherspoon said. ``Ever since they told him he'd be taken in the fifth round, he

Daniel made a promise to Rucker soon after that lower-than-expected draft projection.

``I'm going to try my hardest to get this team to the Big 12 championship and to get you a higher draft status,'' Daniel said.

The two goals are not mutually exclusive, nor is another goal Rucker established for himself: All-American.

``That's what I set out to do,'' Rucker said. ``I have strong faith in the Lord. I read my Bible every night. Whenever you go to him, anything's possible.

``As long as you add the hard work to go with his blessing, you can reach any goal that you set out.''