NCAA reinstates UGA lineman Kolton Houston

Georgia offensive lineman Kolton Houston is finally cleared to play for the Bulldogs.

The NCAA on Thursday granted reinstatement to Houston, who had been barred from appearing in games for more than three years since testing positive for a banned substance after enrolling at the school.

Houston received the news Thursday on his 22nd birthday in a telephone call from Ron Courson, Georgia’s senior associate athletic director for sports medicine.

“It took me 22 years to get the best birthday present but the NCAA finally gave me my eligibility! #HoustonIsFree,” he tweeted.

Houston’s quest to play — Georgia took its fight public a year ago — drew national attention and fueled an online petition drive that ganered more than 5,000 supporters who wanted him allowed to play.

He will be able to not because of a waiver, but because, Georgia said, he “met the exit threshold following his most recent NCAA drug screening.”

Houston will speak to reporters Friday morning. Georgia players begin preseason practice this coming Thursday.

“This is the best birthday present I’ve ever had,” Houston said in a statement released by Georgia Thursday evening. “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.”

Georgia had said that Houston was unknowingly given a substance banned by the NCAA — the anabolic steroid Norandrolone — after sustaining shoulder injuries playing for Buford High School. He first tested positive in April, 2010 and had not met the threshold despite repeated testing and what he has said was no re-use.

Georgia coach Mark Richt had said that Houston had “been tested probably more times than anybody in the history of college football.”

Houston drew a liftetime ban after he tested positive on a retest. Georgia successfully appealed that, but he still needed to reach an acceptable threshold to play.

In a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert last July, athletic director Greg McGarity wrote that Houston “has been tested very frequently by the NCAA and UGA, and there is scientific evidence that clearly demonstrates that there has been no re-use over the past 2 ½ years.” That appeal was unsuccessful.

Georgia tried aggressive sports massages and ultrasound-level treatments that did not help. Houston told ESPN’s Outside the Lines this year that he had five fatty masses where he was given injections surgically removed last October. He also has undergone a 150-degree “sauna detox” program in an effort to become eligible and was given an experimental antibiotic.

“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, according to Georgia, and could petition for a third year following his fifth year of school at Georgia.

“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,” Courson said.

Houston worked at first-team right tackle in the spring of 2012 and was expected to contend for a starting job last season. He could factor in the rotation, if not compete for a starting job on a unit that returns all five starters.

“The big thing is that we’re just really happy for Kolton,” Richt said in a statement. “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.”

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