ATHENS -- There was plenty to talk about during media day activities prior to the opening of the University of Georgia's preseason practice Thursday -- including high expectations for the 2013 season stemming from a No. 6 national ranking in the preseason USA Today coaches poll.
However, the status of potential starting offensive tackle and former Buford standout Kolton Houston was among the most discussed topics by Georgia coach Mark Richt, school officials and players alike.
While previously saying last season that the 6-foot-5, 280-pound redshirt sophomore was ineligible to an unspecified "NCAA issue," school officials acknowledged Thursday that the ruling stemmed from a positive test for a banned substance following recovery from shoulder surgery he underwent following his senior year at Buford in 2010.
"I thought you might ask that," Richt said in response to a question about Houston's situation early in his media news conference. "Obviously, Kolton hadn't been playing. Kolton had an eligibility issue. Kolton's family asked if we would make some things available. There's actually a packet of things here (the media) are going to receive ... to review. It's fairly technical stuff. ... We were going to wait until (Friday) on that, but we just felt like it would be better to (release the information Thursday) so that when you (write) your stories, you'll have all the information."
The details of Houston's situation are quite technical.
According to documents released Thursday to the media by the University and the Houston family, Houston initially tested positive for 29-norandrosterone April 13, 2010, during his recovery from surgery, drawing a one-year ban from competition and a loss of a year of eligibility.
While the level of the substance present in subsequent tests continues to drop, Houston remains ineligible until the level drops below the NCAA-mandated threshold for acceptable level in his system.
"Basically, prior to Kolton coming to Georgia, he had a shoulder surgery and unknowingly was given a substance that's banned by the NCAA," Richt said. "It wasn't like a recreational drug or anything like that, it was just having to do with something that happened, I guess, during the process of the surgery. ... The NCAA has a protocol if you get (a) positive (test) for that type of thing, you miss a year of competition.
"Over time, you assume this substance will leave your body and you would get to the point where the NCAA says you can go back and play. Well, we've been waiting for that moment, and it hasn't come. It's been two and a half years, and this (substance) has not, for whatever reason, gotten out of (his system). ... The bottom line is, he's been tested probably more times than anybody in the history of college football, and we're 100 percent certain he's ... not continued to take this thing. But it's just never gotten far enough out of his system for him to be declared eligible to play."
Georgia has filed multiple appeals to the NCAA on Houston's behalf, the latest in a letter from athletics director Greg McGarity to NCAA executive director Dr. Mark Emmert on July 12.
However, those appeals have been denied and Houston remains ineligible until the level of the substance in his system falls below the NCAA-mandated threshold.
"This is an extremely unique and complex case," said Ron Courson, UGA's associate athletic director for sports medicine, said in a statement released Thursday. "This banned substance use occurred prior to his enrollment at the University of Georgia. During the past 2 years while at Georgia following the positive test, our testing clearly demonstrates Kolton has had no further re-use. We feel strongly he is deserving of the three remaining years of eligibility and continue to work toward restoration."
In the meantime, Houston continues to wait, though he is allowed to practice with the team.
While Houston was not made available to the media Thursday, he continues to receive support from his teammates -- especially fellow linemen like Chris Burnette.
"I really wish Kolton could be cleared and be out there because the guy has so much talent and ability," said the 6-2, 313-pound junior, who comes into preseason practice atop the Bulldogs' depth chart at right guard. "I just want him to do well. Hopefully, the time will come soon."
Houston was projected as the starter alongside Burnette at right tackle, one of three former Gwinnett to come into fall camp as a starter on the line, along with former Buford teammate Dallas Lee at left guard and Wesleyan grad David Andrews at center.
Burnette acknowledged the uncertainty with Houston is not the optimal situation for a line that will have at least three new starters build chemistry, though he said the rest of the unit will carry on until Houston returns.
"It can be tough on cohesion," Burnette said. "We have a lot of new faces, but I feel like we've gotten reps through spring. That's why this time in camp is so important for us, just for us to get more time to get to know the guy next to us and have more confidence in the guy next to you. I think it's going to be a big time for us during camp."