Kolton Houston took the high road with his nemesis of these past few years: The NCAA. The Georgia offensive lineman, finally made eligible after a long, controversial fight, said he wasn't angry with the organization that prevented him from playing football until now.
"It wasn't an easy task that was handed to them," Houston said of the NCAA. "I respect what they had to do. I never blamed them. I'm thankful they were finally able to reinstate me."
Speaking Friday morning at a news conference in Athens, Houston talked of the difficulty of the past few years, enduring numerous failed tests, losing two years of football playing time, and never knowing if he would play.
Now he knows he will. When practice begins next Thursday, Houston will be right there with them, with a chance to play at Clemson.
"I'll be honest, I really started to lose faith," Houston said. "But there's something that just told me to hang on and try it one last time, give it one more reason to try. And I'm glad I did."
Houston had been ineligible since he joined the team in 2010, after a standard NCAA test uncovered the presence of an anabolic steroid, norandrolone, in his system. Houston and his family traced it to an injection he took after shoulder surgery.
"Back in high school I had my shoulder surgeries. We're not exactly sure how it got into my system. But it was in my system. So there's no denying that," Houston said. "And there's no (point) in complaining, really. You can't go back and change anything. ... I'm just trying to put all that past us. That's in the past now so there's no need to worry about that."
Over the next few years the drug stayed in his system, or at least enough of it that he wasn't above to get below the threshold allowed by the NCAA. Houston, his family and UGA continued to push his case with the NCAA, arguing that scientific evidence showed that there had been no new drug use. Houston was tested more than 100 times. The NCAA stuck to its guns.
Finally, a test Houston took on July 18 found his levels below the threshold: Houston's number was at 1.8, well below the NCAA threshold of 2.5.
So what happened? There was no drastic measure taken very recently. He had surgery to replace a muscle mass, and he also had sauna treatment and took antiobiotics. But that was all awhile ago.
"Since then it was just time," Houston said. "I guess that's the only way to describe it. Time, and God works miracles, I guess."
Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity, who has dealt with this for pretty much his entire tenure, was still absorbing the swift resolution.
"Since this had been going on for so long, you had to sit back and say: Let's double-check, triple-check, make sure that it is actually happening," McGarity said.
McGarity said Houston will only be subject to random NCAA drug testing, just like any other athlete.
"I think the one thing that can be gained ... is an awareness for all student-athletes, regardless of what age, high school or what have you, they can learn from this experience," McGarity said. "And like Kolton said today, he's matured a lot, he felt like there's a reason things happen. I'm sure he's going to be a better person, a more mature person, having experienced this over the last three-and-half-years."
Houston made a point of thanking Georgia head athletic trainer and director of sports medicine Ron Courson, who tireless argued Houston's case.
"I'll be forever indebted for what he did for me and my family," Houston said. "From Day 1 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. He wanted to fix it. He dedicated a lot of hours that most people would never have done."
So now, what about football?
Houston was optimistic about how quickly he could get in game shape. He stopped practicing with the team the week leading up to the SEC championship. He worked out on his own, including with former center Ben Jones in the offseason. This past May, Courson told him he should start working out again, so Houston started working with a trainer back home in Buford. And a month later he resumed working out with the team.
He now weighs around 280 pounds. He was at 275 in spring of 2012 when, in his words, he was "playing the best football of my life."
"When it comes to camp, I'm physically ready to go. I'm physically in shape," said Houston, who will have two years of eligibility remaining, and will able to apply for a third year after the 2014 season. "Obviously there's gonna be some rust, I haven't practiced in five months. But other people have had surgeries who have been out too."
Houston found out he was eligible on Thursday, his 22nd birthday. There have been other cool moments: There was a team meeting on Thursday, at which point head coach Mark Richt informed the team that Houston was cleared, and "everybody started jumping up and down," according to Houston. He also saw that ESPN personality Scott Van Pelt tweeted a note of congratulations.
But now he's ready to get back to football.
"It's been a long four years, but my time's finally here, and I'm ready to get to work," he said.