UGA’s Houston reinstated by NCAA

For Kolton Houston, there could be no greater gift than having his college football eligibility restored. That it happened for him on his 22nd birthday made it that much sweeter.

The junior offensive lineman from Buford was reinstated by the NCAA on Thursday. He has been suspended for the past three years because of the presence of steroids in his system.

“This is the best birthday present I’ve ever had,” Houston said in a statement released by UGA late Thursday afternoon. “I had almost reached the point where I thought this situation would never end. When I got the call, I broke down and cried for about 30 minutes. I had that much emotion stored up and it felt good to get it out. I’m ready now to show what I can do.”

A news conference with Houston is scheduled for Friday morning at UGA. Georgia players report for preseason camp Tuesday and their first practice is Thursday.

Houston has been sidelined since arriving at Georgia as an early enrollee in January 2010 and failing an NCAA drug test for banned substances. UGA determined that the presence of steroids in Houston’s system was caused when they were medically administered following shoulder surgery in high school, and Houston was given the standard one-year suspension.

But when the steroids appeared in subsequent NCAA tests, Houston was handed a lifetime ban. In a vigorous round of appeals to the NCAA, Ron Courson, Georgia’s director of sports medicine, claimed that the illegal substance has remained trapped in Houston’s fatty tissue and said he could prove there had been no re-use, as Georgia had continued to test Houston at regular intervals.

NCAA President Mark Emmert denied Georgia’s appeal for immediate reinstatement, but allowed that Houston could have his eligibility restored when the amount of steroids in his system reached the NCAA’s acceptable threshold. That threshold was reached on Houston’s most recent test.

“This has been a long and very complex case, and we have tried to be advocates for Kolton throughout this three-year process,” Courson said in a statement. “We would like to thank the NCAA staff, as well as the members of the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports, who assisted with this case. There are a number of medical professionals who played key roles in this appeal, from physicians to pharmacists to biomedical researchers to drug toxicologists. This was truly a team effort.”

Houston has two years of eligibility remaining and could petition for a third year after his eligiblity expires.

Georgia’s offensive line situation gets real interesting entering the preseason. When Houston last competed on the field, he left the 2012 spring practice as the Bulldogs’ starter at right tackle. But after Houston’s previous appeal was denied shortly before last season, John Theus went on to start all 14 games as a freshman last season. Georgia returns all five starters from the 2012 offensive line, and Theus lost his starting job to sophomore Xzavier Ward in spring practice.

In any case, the Bulldogs’ depth increased, and the competition will be furious during the 29-practice preseason camp.

“The big thing is that we’re just really happy for Kolton,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We’re thankful for all the work Ron Courson put in and for those who kept believing, but mostly we’re happy for him. We don’t want to put any pressure on him like now he’s got to be a star. The bottom line is, we’re happy he’ll be able to participate for Georgia. We’re glad it all worked out.”

Said Courson: “I hope that all student-athletes will take note of this case and use extreme caution when taking supplements or medications of any kind, ensuring beforehand that they are safe and permissible.”