CHAPEL HILL — Ryan Houston still might play football for North Carolina this season, UNC coach Butch Davis said Thursday.
Then again, he might not.
The tailback did not play in the first five games because of the ongoing NCAA investigation. He was cleared to return before the Virginia game but did not play against the Cavaliers because UNC and Houston were exploring the option of redshirting this season.
Davis said there is no definitive plan to redshirt Houston, a senior, and his status would be determined on a week-by-week basis.
"The resolution is if we need him to win games, we're going to play him," Davis said. "In the ideal situation we would like not to."
Houston, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound power back, led the Tar Heels in rushing (713 yards) and touchdowns (9) in 2009. Johnny White has stepped into Houston's role as the top running back, but Houston remains the team's best short-yardage specialist.
At 4-2 overall, and 2-1 in the ACC, UNC is still in contention for the Coastal Division title. The outcome of their trip Saturday to Miami, also 2-1 in the ACC, will shape the division race going into the second half of the season.
UNC has declined to make Houston available for comment.
"We're going to try to do what's in the best interest of the team first and certainly Ryan, as well," Davis said.
White and Shaun Draughn, the team's top rushers this season, are both seniors. Sophomore Hunter Furr, who had two carries for 2 yards against LSU but hasn't played since, is the only other tailback to carry the ball this season.
Freshman Gio Bernard was expected to be in a rotation with White, Draughn and Houston before the season started but tore the ACL in his right knee in training camp.
Brown to redshirt: UNC ruled cornerback Charles Brown out for the season on Wednesday for his role in the NCAA investigation. Davis said on his radio show Wednesday night that Brown would use this season as a redshirt and return in 2011.
Brown, a senior, started 13 games last season and had 66 tackles and three interceptions.
Safeties Jonathan Smith and Brian Gupton have also been sidelined for the season for their role in the NCAA investigation and will also redshirt.
Davis said there's still no resolution for senior cornerback Kendric Burney, who has missed the first six games. Burney had been suspended for six games by the NCAA for receiving improper agent-related benefits and was ruled out of Saturday's game by UNC.
"He'd like to be able to put this in the past and move on with it," Davis said Thursday before practice. "Kendric is a good kid. He has handled some of this adversity about as well as anyone can expect him to handle it."
Sturdivant, Fantroy game-time decisions: Outside linebacker Quan Sturdivant (hamstring) and cornerback LeCount Fantroy (shoulder) will be game-time decisions on Saturday, Davis said.
Sturdivant has missed the past three games because of an injured left hamstring. Fantroy, Burney's replacement at cornerback, injured his left shoulder in the second quarter of last week's 44-10 win at Virginia.
Davis said Fantroy has "less of a probability" of playing than Sturdivant. Freshman Tre Boston would start in his place.
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