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Tight end prospect has deep WNY roots

Robert Housler was born and raised in Texas, but his family tree is deeply rooted in Western New York.

His father, Robert Sr., was a three-sport star at Starpoint High School in Pendleton, where the elder Housler's parents and two sisters still reside.

Robert Jr.'s godfather is Sean Kugler, a former Lockport football standout who coached the Buffalo Bills' offensive line before taking the same job with the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. Kugler and Robert Sr. played college football together at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Wait, there's more.

Robert Sr.'s paternal grandmother's cousin was married to a cousin of Bills safety and Orchard Park native Jon Corto.

"Those are some serious connections," Robert Jr. said, laughing. "I like it up there. It's kind of like my second home."

Buffalo might become his permanent residence if the Bills select him in the NFL draft later this week.

Housler, a redshirt senior from Florida Atlantic University, is one of the top tight end prospects in the draft and is expected to be taken from the fourth to the sixth round.

The Bills have tight ends on the roster, but none has been productive in the passing game. Housler is an outstanding receiver with good size (6-foot-5 3/4 , 248 pounds) and speed. Scouts say he needs to improve as a blocker, but his career average of 15.7 yards per catch shows his potential as a downfield receiving threat.

The Bills apparently were intrigued enough to fly Housler in for a visit recently. After playing for an NFL team in Texas, coming here would be the dream scenario given his local ties.

"I would love to play for Buffalo," Housler said from Florida, where he has been training. "There's a lot of history up there. On my trips to New York growing up I would come home with some kind of Bills gear. It would be a dream come true. I know I'd have a lot of family in the stands for every home game. It would be fun."

Housler will be home in Converse, Texas, for the draft. Whenever his name is called, he won't be celebrating alone. In addition to his wife and one-year-old son, his grandparents as well as his aunts and their entire family are flying to Converse this week. Housler's mother (she and Robert Sr. are divorced) is coming in from Minnesota with more family members in tow.

"When my son was recruited [to play at UTEP], they couldn't put my hat on because my head was so big," said Dick Housler, Robert Jr.'s grandfather. "And now my grandson comes along and is doing so well. He's very mature and has a good outlook on life. The excitement level in our family is pretty high."

Housler wasn't on anyone's draft radar going into last season. But he returned from a redshirt year to post 39 catches for 629 yards and four touchdowns. That performance earned him invitations to a couple of postseason all-star games. But his showing at the NFL Scouting Combine really grabbed the attention of NFL teams.

Housler outperformed most of the higher-rated tight ends in Indianapolis, running the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.55 seconds), posting the third-best vertical jump (37 inches) and ranking in the top 10 in all the other individual drills.

"I think for small-school guys, we're all out there to prove something; that we can compete on the same level as everybody else," he said. "You can't go out on the field and worry about the name on the jersey when you're playing. You just have to go out there and play. I think I did that this year."

Housler's father was perhaps the greatest athlete ever at Starpoint. He earned All-Western New York and all-state honors at tight end before going to UTEP, where he played with future NFL stars Seth Joyner and Chris Jacke in addition to Kugler.

Robert Sr. didn't put any pressure on his son to play football. But in a football-crazed state like Texas, it was inevitable what would be the younger Housler's sport of choice.

He played a variety of positions, including tight end and quarterback, at Judson High School in Converse, a small town just outside of San Antonio. Judson has won six Texas state titles since 1983.

However, he didn't attract much interest from Division I colleges in Texas or anywhere else. Fortunately, Kugler contacted an old UTEP coaching colleague, Gary Nord, who was then Florida Atlantic's offensive coordinator.

Housler visited the Boca Raton campus and received a scholarship offer from FAU head coach Howard Schnellenberger, who won a national championship at Miami and also coached at Oklahoma and Louisville.

Used as a utility player his first two years, Housler set a school record with a 68-yard touchdown run against Florida International in 2007. He had a break-out 2008 with 32 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns. His biggest play was a 71-yard reception against Michigan State. He recorded his first collegiate TD catch against Texas, whose Austin campus is just 70 miles from Converse.

"Tight ends were a staple for us at Miami and at Louisville. Rob may possess the most talent of them all [tight ends at the three programs]," Schnellenberger said. "I think he will be an outstanding professional football player."

Housler has been gearing up for the draft for a long time and will be happy when the process is over. But don't think for a minute that he isn't fired up about the possibility of getting that phone call from a team and seeing his name on the television screen. Best of all, his family will be there to share the moment.

"I don't look at it as a [draft] party, but more as an opportunity to get all my family together under one roof," he said. "That coupled with the draft, it's going to be one of the most memorable moments of my life."


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