ORLANDO, Fla. – Sweating through a football uniform after his first practice in more than four months, Marvin Austin smiled today.
You couldn’t wipe the grin – or the sweat – off of the former North Carolina defensive tackle’s face after a late morning workout for this Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game, an annual college football exhibition game.
“I’m just happy to be playing football again,” Austin said in his first interview since July.
One of the central figures in the NCAA’s investigation of UNC’s football program, Austin has been relegated to a spectator’s role since the end of August. Projected before last season as a second-round NFL draft pick, he was pulled from practice before the Tar Heels’ Sept. 4 opener against LSU.
Austin was suspended by UNC for the first five games before he was kicked off the team on Oct. 11, when he and teammates Greg Little and Robert Quinn were ruled in violation of NCAA rules governing agent benefits, preferential treatment and ethical conduct.
Austin declined to talk about the investigation.
“I’m not ready to talk about the past,” Austin said.
Austin was back in uniform this morning, with a UNC helmet, in preparation for Saturday’s college all-star game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. His dreadlocks are longer, and he wore a new number (99), but Austin looked like the same player, with the same gregarious personality, who was such a big part of coach Butch Davis’ rebuilding project at UNC from 2007 to ’09.
A preseason contender for the ACC title, and ranked in the preseason top 20, UNC finished last season unranked with an 8-5 record and a Music City Bowl win over Tennessee.
In a scrimmage to end Tuesday’s Shrine Game practice, Austin took a shot under his facemask from Penn State running back Evan Royster. Austin said he was actually happy about it.
“It was good to hit somebody, and good to get hit,” Austin said.