Cooley played at USU from 2000-03. Drafted in the third round by Washington, he spent nine years in the NFL. He played in two Pro Bowls and became the franchise leader for receptions by a tight end. He retired in 2013.
"Just to be mentioned in the same sentence with Chris Cooley is a great honor," Houston said. "… He was a great player and had a great career."
Besides playing the same position as Cooley, Houston has another connection with him.
"At one point, I actually lived in the same house that he lived in when he was here," he said. "One of my neighbors told me that. I thought it was kind of interesting."
As a junior quarterback at Horizon Christian High School in suburban Portland, Houston completed 154 of 265 passes for 2,054 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also ran for 692 yards and five TDs.
College recruiters overlooked him, however. So when Utah State coach Matt Wells sent Houston a Facebook message the following spring, he was interested.
"Coach Wells liked my size and thought that I could have a chance of playing tight end," Houston recalled. "He wanted me to come to camp so they could see me, see me move and see how physical I was."
The trip produced Houston's "one and only" Division I offer.
"I decided I'd have a better chance playing at the highest level as a tight end," he said, "… and that's what happened."
Said Wells, who was Utah State's offensive coordinator at the time, "We saw a big, athletic kid that I believed had all the intangibles family, work ethic, his care, his passion, a multi-sport athlete, a big quarterback."
Wells made sure Houston knew the reason he was being recruited: "… I said, 'You will play tight end, you will run routes and you will block.' He said, 'Coach, I don't know the drills. I don't know how to do it.' I told him I knew that but he was still going to do it. He willingly did it and did very well."
Houston (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) was supposed to redshirt as a true freshman, but injuries forced him onto the field.
This season, he's caught 30 passes and stretched his streak of at least one reception in a game to 15.
"His care factor and work ethic are off the charts," Wells said.
Asked if Houston is an NFL prospect, he said, "Any time you're that big and you can run well and you catch it, then you are going to be a prospect. There will be people that absolutely like him."
New Mexico at Utah State
P Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
TV • ESPN2