ATHENS, Ga. -- University of Georgia offensive lineman Kolton Houston says he's not bitter toward the NCAA that kept him from playing football for three years.
"It would be easy to blame the NCAA, easy to be critical of them," said Houston. "No hard feelings. I'm extremely thankful they were cordial and worked with us."
Houston was declared ineligible in January of 2010, his first semester at Georgia, following routine NCAA drug testing which detected a banned substance. The substance was later determined to have been medically administered following shoulder surgery while Houston was in high school.
PHOTO| Houston released to play football for UGA
To make matters worse, the substance was trapped in Houston's fatty tissue and wouldn't leave his body, causing Houston to fail one test after another. The University of Georgia appealed to the NCAA for understanding, but Houston wasn't allowed to play.
"I wanted him to fight the whole way," says Houston's father Shane. "His mom and I are blessed. It's true character that this young man has shown. True character."
After two failed tests, the NCAA gave Houston a lifetime ban, but agreed to let him play again if the steroids in his system dropped to a level acceptable to the organization.
That happened late Thursday. Houston's eligibility was immediately reinstated.
"I lost it," said Houston. It takes a lot to make a man cry, but when you've had that much emotion for three-and-a-half years, it's gotta come out."
Houston told 11Alive's Jerry Carnes that one more failed test likely would have led him to leave football.
"Me and my parents prayed not too long ago and said time is running out, if you want it to happen it's got to happen now," said Houston. "Our prayers got answered."
UGA's Senior Associate Athletic Director for Sports Medicine Ron Courson went to bat for Houston repeatedly.
"This has been a long and very complex case and we have tried to be advocates for Kolton throughout this three-year process," said Courson. "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."
On Thursday - Houston's birthday - he received the news in a telephone call from Courson.
"This is the best birthday present I've ever had," Houston said. "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."
"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."
Houston has two years of eligibility remaining and could petition for a third year following his fifth year of school at Georgia if he chooses to do so.
"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," said Courson.
University of Georgia