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Steelers rookie says Sam, his former roommate, has changed

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Missouri tight end Eric Waters (81) reacts to a field goal against Auburn during the first half of the SEC championship game, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, in Atlanta.

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Eric Waters watched ESPN's “Outside the Lines” interview with Michael Sam just like everybody else.

The Steelers undrafted free agent tight end closely followed Sam's progression from the interview announcing that he was gay to the overwhelming swell of publicity that came with it to becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL when St. Louis drafted him in the seventh round of May's draft.

The more Waters watched, the more he shook his head.

The guy Waters got to know so well at Missouri isn't the guy on display for the world to see now — at least that's how his former roommate feels.

“He is a nice guy, but I will say the truth: A little bit of him has changed,” Waters said. “It is really not my situation to speculate at this point, but he is not the same Michael Sam anymore.”

Waters roomed with Sam and freshman linebacker Eric Beisel last year at Missouri and considered Sam a good friend.

“Just the way he acts and carries himself,” Waters said when asked what's changed with Sam. “I was watching the NFL Network the other day and I think it was Marshall Faulk who said that he keeps referring to himself in the third person as Michael Sam this, Michael Sam that. That's not the same guy we knew back when we were living together. He is not the same fun-loving, joking guy that really didn't care about stuff like publicity.”

According to Waters, the two don't talk anymore.

“I don't know if that is because he is more focused on the fame and the opportunity he has now or whatever,” Waters said.

It's not the first time Waters made a public comment about his former roommate. After Sam made his announcement in February, Waters tweeted: “Half of y'all posting these pics saying how proud you are. But most of y'all was the ones talking (expletive) behind his back in the locker room.”

Waters wasn't one of those guys. He said he never had an issue with Sam being gay.

“Like I tell everybody else, I don't care about your sexual preference or if you are black or white or freaking purple,” Waters said. “As long as you can play football, that's all that matters. We had a common denominator: We were brought to the same university because we had the ability to play football. That's all that matters.”

Sam continues to attract attention daily in St. Louis even though he is a borderline roster player on a team loaded at his position on the defensive line.

The same can be said about Waters, who left practice Thursday with a lower back injury only hours after making the comments about Sam.

Waters was an afterthought at Missouri. He caught eight passes and started only four games as a senior despite starting double-digit games his first three years.

“I wasn't given the opportunity like everybody else,” Waters said. “Not to down any of those coaches or anybody else, a lot of stuff was handed to people, and I was the guy who had to work for everything but it still wasn't good enough.”

The lack of opportunities for Waters put his draft stock in serious jeopardy.

“I knew for a fact that once they saw my athleticism and once they saw that I can actually catch the ball and run routes (that somebody would take notice),” Waters said.

Waters has shown his versatility through the first week of camp. He's displayed athletic ability, but also has shown that he can block — something the Steelers require from their tight ends.

With not a lot of depth behind Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, Waters could be a contender for a roster spot.

“It is good to do one thing really great, but when you can do multiple things great, you will be so much better off,” Waters said. “That is just my mindset.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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