ATHENS - The middle-to-late portion of practice was the worst part the past few years. Kolton Houston would feel tired, then realize it was for no reason.
That's changed now. These past two weeks, his ordeal with the NCAA finally over, Houston gets to that latter half of Georgia football practice and probably feels better than anybody else.
"I can say this is going to help me on the field, this is going to serve a purpose," he said.
That purpose is more than just being eligible, as it turns out. After once worrying he would never play college football, Houston finds himself not only eligible, but competing for a starting spot. Houston is battling sophomore John Theus, who started every game at right tackle last year.
Even if Houston doesn't get the start on Aug. 31 at Clemson, he could get snaps off the bench, with right guard also a possibility.
"I think I've made it into the top seven right now," Houston said after Monday's practice, which was centered on special teams work. "Last year we had a set five offensive linemen so they weren't really getting pushed. But when you have eight people it breeds competition."
When preseason practice started on Aug. 1, Houston turned the page from being a cause celebre' to just a football player. He and his family spent, and UGA's training staff, spent more than two years battling with the NCAA over his inability to pass drug tests. He didn't even participate in spring practice this year.
Once he finally did pass his test last month, it was time to get back to football. Luckily he was in good enough physical shape, cutting off one potential hurdle.
"I was rusty the first couple of days, and that kind of rust has worn off," Houston said. "What was the hardest thing was the speed of play. You talk about even the NFL guys, Peyton Manning says when he comes back in the preseason he's not ready to play. So that was definitely the hardest thing to overcome. But now that we're 12 practices, 13 practices in, I'm getting more used to it now, and it's slowly coming back."
And some things that others might not enjoy, Houston doesn't mind.
"It's been fun getting yelled at, and all that other kind of fun stuff that makes football fun," he said, smiling.