ATHENS – Georgia coach Mark Richt remains vague about the “NCAA issue” that kept Kolton Houston sidelined all last season. But as evidenced by Houston’s regular presence with the No. 1 offense at left guard during spring camp, the Bulldogs obviously expect to have him for the coming season.
“We anticipate him to be able to play, but it’s not set in stone yet on him,” Richt said.
Houston is listed as a redshirt sophomore in Georgia’s spring media guide, even though he has not played since he has been with the Bulldogs. The Buford native was redshirted in 2010, his initial year of eligibility, then appeared to be a rising star in 2011. He was listed as backup to Kenarious Gates at left guard heading into preseason camp.
But by the time the season began, Houston had dropped off the depth chart. Richt has never referred to Houston as “suspended,” only that he was ineligible due to “an NCAA issue.” Requests to interview Houston have been denied since last fall.
The NCAA can suspend student-athletes from competition for one full year for a positive test of one of its random screens for banned substances. But The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Freedom of Information requests for documentation regarding the status of Houston’s NCAA eligibility have been denied by UGA citing federal laws that protect students’ academic and medical privacy.
Richt remained evasive when pressed on the issue again Thursday.
“What did we say it was?,” he asked rhetorically. “I forgot how much I’ve said so far.”
Reminded by another reporter of his standard reply, Richt laughed. “Yeah, NCAA issue. That’s what it is, an NCAA issue.”
Nevertheless, it’s clear the Bulldogs are getting Houston ready to play. During the short times the media is allowed to view practice, Houston has been lining up at left guard with the No. 1 unit.
Junior Dallas Lee, who is also a Buford product, started seven games at guard (and five at left guard) before breaking a leg against Florida this past season. He seems to be working more with the No. 2 unit.
“[Offensive line] Coach [Will] Friend is rotating the lineup around pretty good, so I wouldn’t say Kolton [Houston] is ahead of Dallas [Lee] right now,” Richt said. “On any given day or in any given rotation he may be in there and Dallas may be with the 2s. But they’re moving back and forth.”
So far, Richt likes what he’s seeing out of both players. The 6-foot-5, 291-pound Houston was an 2009 AJC Super 11 selection and an Under Armour High School All-American coming out of Buford High.
“We think Kolton can play,” Richt said. “He’s got a ways to go but, again, and I say this to the team a lot, I’m not that worried about who the starters are. I’m worried about how many guys are ready to play football for Georgia in the Southeastern Conference. That’s what I’m hoping these guys can prove to us. All those guys are fighting for that.
“Do I think Dallas can? Yes. Do I think Kolton can? Yes. We’re working our way through some of these other guys. Gates has already done it. Chris Burnette has already done it. So we’ve got guys that can do it.”
The Bulldogs are having to replace three starters off last season’s offensive line: left tackle Cordy Glenn, center Ben Jones and right tackle Justin Anderson. Currently the first five are Gates at left tackle, Houston, sophomore David Andrews at center, Burnette at right guard and sophomore Watts Dantzler at right tackle.
“We have high hopes for Andrews,” Richt said. “Right now he’s the No. 1 center. If he can get it done that will help us a lot, free up a guy like Burnette to stay at the guard position. We wouldn’t have David line up at anything but center at this point. But he’s doing a great job as far as knowing what to do and working on communicating and everything that has to be done. Next to the quarterback he’s got the toughest job there is as far as recognizing things, communicating things and doing it really fast.”
The second unit has JUCO transfer Mark Beard at left tackle, Lee at guard, walkon Hugh Williams at center, Hunter Long at right guard and Austin Long at right tackle.
OTHER NOTES: Richt said quarterback Michael Tamburo of Suwanee has decided to give up football. The junior out of North Gwinnett injured a knee but will remain with the team in a “student assistant” capacity. . . . Junior wide receiver Rantavious Wooten was unable to practice Thursday due to a pulled leg muscle. . . . The Bulldogs began their “competitive phase” of camp, as Richt called it, with their first contact practice of the spring. The coaches kept score of drills that pitted the offense against the defense and “the defense won the day,” Richt said.