Brian Cushing and Mark Sanchez were prized recruits in the same top-ranked recruiting class at USC in 2004. Cushing, from Oradell, N.J., and Sanchez, from Mission Viejo, Calif., became close friends and lived together at USC for two-and-a-half years.
"(We were) very close," Sanchez said. "His family would come out all the time and either stay with my family or get dinner. I know him pretty well. He's a great guy, a very good roommate and, unfortunately for us, a good football player."
On the field, Cushing and Sanchez went 35-4 together. USC won three Rose Bowls in their final three years at the school.
Both players won a Rose Bowl MVP trophy, Cushing in 2007 and Sanchez in 2009. Both were drafted in the first round of this April's draft, Sanchez at No. 5 overall and Cushing at No. 15.
It's only fitting that they'll be on the same field again when they make their respective professional debuts on Sunday.
"We really grew up in that 'SC system together, and we're both really looking forward to this opportunity," Cushing said.
Cushing, who says he is fully recovered from the sprained left knee that kept him out of the preseason, has made no secret about what he's looking forward to the most: His first chance to hit his formerly off-limits teammate.
"In practice at SC, I was wearing that yellow jersey, so he couldn't touch me," Sanchez said in an interview with Newsday. "But now it's on. We need to be ready for his speed, his physical mentality and the way he can just unload on guys. He knows how to hit, so it's going to be an exciting game for him."
Sanchez only started 16 games in his USC career, but he has drawn high marks from Texans coaches and players this week for the poise he demonstrated in the pocket during the preseason.
"He's a real competitive kid," Cushing said. "He's done a great job in his four years developing as a quarterback. He's in the perfect system and he's flourished. He's doing well already, which has surprised a lot of people, but not me. I expected him to do well. He's a great leader, and he'll be ready come Sunday."