Kolton Houston (middle) could be Georgia's starting right tackle when the season begins.
The Georgia offensive lineman had been ineligible since 2010 following a failed test for a steroid that for years would not dissipate from his system to a level that would allow him to pass an NCAA drug screening. But only a few hours after Houston first learned on Thursday that he had finally tested negative, the NCAA officially declared him eligible.
Just like that, years of frustration caused by approximately 100 positive drug test results and the NCAA’s unwillingness to make a special exception in his case are not daily mental hurdles for the 22-year-old. Houston finally has a chance to compete for playing time, and he wants to focus on that opportunity.
“I think the NCAA serves a good purpose, and I’m grateful for what they’ve done for me,” Houston said. “It wasn’t easy the task that was handed to them and I respect what they had to do. I never blamed them. I’m thankful that they were finally able to reinstate me.”
Houston’s ordeal -- which gained national attention a year ago when Georgia took its case for his reinstatement public and picked up steam this spring when ESPN featured the story on “Outside the Lines” -- was a potential minefield for college sports’ governing body.
While Georgia’s well-respected director of sports medicine, Ron Courson, insisted for some time that the miniscule levels of the drug remaining in Houston’s system did not create a performance-enhancing benefit, the NCAA was in a tricky position. How could it allow a player to compete against others who were competing cleanly when he was unable to clear the NCAA’s minimum allowable threshold on a drug screening -- even if only trace elements from a 2009 steroid injection remained in his system?
Georgia’s administration argued its case and voiced its frustration with the NCAA’s unwillingness to bend, but it also understood the governing body’s reasoning.
“The NCAA, they’re in a tough position because they’ve got policies that have to cover so many student-athletes, so we understood their reasoning on having to clear the mark,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “We wish that maybe some of the other information that we provided would help, but we just knew that we were going to do everything we could to prolong it and to fight for Kolton.”
Over the past two-plus years, Houston underwent a battery of tests, experimental therapies, antibiotic treatment and even a surgery to remove fatty tissue where the drug was concentrated, all in an effort to get the steroid out of his system. Gradually his levels on ensuing drug tests began to approach the NCAA’s threshold of 2.5 nanograms per milliliter, but the decreases stopped and hovered around 4 and 5 for about 18 months. This after his initial failed test showed 260 nanograms per milliliter of the steroid in his system.
Finally, last Thursday, he took the test that came back negative a week later, showing an acceptable 1.8 nanograms per milliliter and allowing the NCAA to reinstate Houston immediately -- three years and three months after his initial failed test.
More from ESPN.com
After spending more than three years in NCAA purgatory, Kolton Houston's reinstatement occurred with lightning-quick efficiency, writes David Ching. Blog
In June, Chris Jones of ESPN The Magazine looked at the Kolton Houston saga, and wondered if saving the rule was more important than saving the athlete. Story
“I’ll be forever indebted to Ron,” Houston said. “He’s one of the best in the country at what he does. From day one, he said he wasn’t going to quit until I wanted to quit. He believed in his heart that what was happening wasn’t fair to me and he wanted to fix it.
“He dedicated a lot of hours that most people would have never done. He didn’t have to, but he told me from day one he was going to treat me like his son and he was going to do everything for me that he would do for his son. And after three and a half years of long work, he finally got it.”
Expecting to eventually be reinstated, Houston ended Georgia’s 2012 spring practice as the Bulldogs’ starting right tackle. He’s listed as the third-string left tackle on the summer depth chart, but he can also play guard and isn’t entirely sure where he will land now that playing time is a possibility.
“To be honest with you, I don’t care. You can line me up at tight end or receiver. I’m going to leave that up to Coach [Will] Friend and Coach [Mike] Bobo,” Houston said, referring to Georgia’s offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. “They get to have fun with that. I’m just going to show up and work and do the best I can do.”
At 280 pounds, Houston is only about five pounds away from his expected playing weight of 285, so he does not anticipate many problems getting into playing shape. However, aside from spring scrimmages at Georgia, Houston hasn’t played in a game since the 2010 Under Armour All-America Game and understands that cracking the Bulldogs’ offensive line rotation will be a gradual process. Houston redshirted in 2010 and has two years of eligibility left, plus the option to apply for another year of eligibility.
If there is one attribute that his experience over the past few years has strengthened, it’s patience. Now that patience is finally being rewarded with the opportunity he thought might never arrive.
“I never planned on quitting,” Houston said. “I was going to beat that horse until there was no more life in it. But [my friends and family] just gave me a little extra support and they just showed me what’s important in life. They made me realize that this is your dream. Don’t quit on it until you’re forced to quit, so that’s just what I did.”