Saunders suspended from team

jperson@thestate.comAugust 23, 2010 

USC tight end Weslye Saunders

GERRY MELENDEZ/GMELENDEZ@THESTATE.COM

Weslye Saunders, the South Carolina tight end embroiled in an NCAA investigation, has been “temporarily suspended” from the team, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said Monday night.

Saunders was not at Monday’s practice – the first one the senior has missed since being linked last month to the NCAA’s wide-ranging probe of possible illegal agent activity involving players at a number of SEC and ACC schools.

But Spurrier said Saunders was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules, and it had “nothing to do with the NCAA” investigation.

“Weslye has been, I guess you’d say, temporarily suspended for a violation of team rules,” Spurrier said. “And his situation will be determined a little later.”

Likewise, Spurrier said the suspension was not tied to Saunders’ involvement with the Whitney Hotel. Saunders is one of at least seven players under NCAA scrutiny for their long-term living arrangements at the Shandon-area hotel.

The players were asked to vacate the hotel last week and pay any outstanding balances.

“I said team rules,” Spurrier said. “Whitney don’t have nothing to do with our team.”

A source said Saunders did not attend a team meeting Saturday morning and was late for the scrimmage that day, although it’s unclear whether that prompted the suspension.

Spurrier said last week he expects the NCAA to rule on Saunders’ status prior to next week’s opener against Southern Miss. The Gamecocks’ sixth-year coach grew irritated at the Saunders’ questions Monday.

When asked how long Saunders would be out, Spurrier said: “Y’all don’t listen to me. Weslye has suspended for a violation of team rules. His status will be determined at a later date. Now how else can I say that? OK? That’s all I’ve got to say about it.”

Saunders, a native of Durham, N.C., has said he is close friends with North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who also is in the NCAA’s crosshairs for his possible involvement with agents.

NCAA investigators have visited Columbia twice in recent weeks to meet with Saunders, as well as other players and coaches. Sources said investigators wanted to review copies of incoming and outgoing text messages from Saunders’ cell phone.

Saunders was the Gamecocks’ third-leading receiver last year with 32 catches for 353 yards and three touchdowns. Without Saunders, USC is down to three scholarship tight ends: Patrick DiMarco, who has been out for about two weeks with a cracked forearm, Justice Cunningham and Mike Triglia.

“We’re just pushing through it. We’re hoping Wes gets back with us and can be back for the first game,” said DiMarco, one of the team captains. “If he can’t, then someone else will have to step up, either me or Justice (Cunningham) or (Mike) Triglia.”

Cunningham said he talked to Saunders at breakfast Monday morning, but wasn’t sure about Saunders’ mindset.

“I wouldn’t know,” Cunningham said. “I’ve tried to stay out of it.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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