South Carolina officials hope to hear from the NCAA on the status of several key players this week, although coaches are preparing for the possibility of playing without embattled tight end Weslye Saunders this season, according to sources close to the program.
Saunders, who was questioned by NCAA investigators about his possible involvement with agents, has been suspended for the past week for a separate incident. The senior from Durham, N.C., was the Gamecocks’ third-leading receiver last season.
Saunders is also among 10 players who were asked by USC coach Steve Spurrier to move out of the Whitney Hotel this month and make restitution to the Shandon-area hotel after receiving discounted rates for extended stays. Saunders had been living at the Whitney since 2009, and must re-pay more than $5,000, according to a source.
In addition to Saunders, defensive backs Akeem Auguste and C.C. Whitlock are the players most likely to face the most severe penalties because of the Whitney situation, sources said. Auguste is the Gamecocks’ starting free safety, while Whitlock is a second-team cornerback.
Spurrier has said players could miss a game or two, based on the NCAA’s history with players who received extra benefits. Spurrier and his assistants were not available for comment following Monday’s practice.
Hit the erase button
The players have come to a conclusion. They’re ready to play Thursday night against Southern Miss just so Spurrier will quit talking about the last game they played.
That, of course, was the Papajohns.com Bowl on Jan. 2, when the Gamecocks suffered a stinging 20-7 defeat at the hands of UConn. Spurrier has harped on his team’s poor play and lack of readiness for eight months.
“He talks about it all the time to get us to remember how we played the last game,” sophomore receiver Alshon Jeffery said with a smile.
Senior running back Brian Maddox believes the players know they have to play well against the Golden Eagles to make the UConn loss finally fade away.
“We definitely have got to get that game out of our memories,” Maddox said. “It’s going to lag behind until we finish Thursday night here.”
Jeffery, the team’s leading receiver last season, is thrilled about getting a prime-time opportunity on ESPN to show the nation this team is a better one than played in that bowl game.
“We’re ready for that. It’s going to be live. We’re ready,” he said.
For his part, Maddox is simply ready to play against someone else.
“We’ve been practicing against each other, the same people, for over a month. We’re definitely ready to hit somebody else,” Maddox said. “I know I am. I’m tired of blocking Cliff (Matthews) and all those other guys, (Rodney) Paulk, those guys like that.”
Lining things up
Junior tackle Kyle Nunn believes the offensive line, despite an early run of injuries in camp, is rounding into form.
“The offensive line is looking good. We’ve got a lot to improve on. We’re getting better and better every day,” said Nunn, who has practiced at left and right tackle, primarily with the first team. “Things started clicking a little bit better towards the end of camp.”
He noted that Terrence Campbell is making his way back from a high ankle sprain that kept the junior right guard out of practice until recently.
“It looks like his ankle is getting better. It still has a little bit more healing to do, it looks like,” Nunn said.
In the backfield
Maddox isn’t certain which tailback will get the start against Southern Miss. Freshman Marcus Lattimore and sophomore Kenny Miles appear to be the front-runners, but Maddox says all of them remain in the mix.
“I’m not sure. I think none of us are sure until gameday. All of us are going to get some quality carries, and it’s going to be a serious rotation,” he said. “It’s headed down toward that wire.”
He likes how the team is wrapping up final preparations.
“We were doing pretty good tonight. More crisp, I would say. It has to be more crisp, of course, because tomorrow (Tuesday) is fine-tune day, being like a Thursday for a Saturday night game,” he said.
Jeffery and the receivers finished up a spirited pass-catching drill at the end of Monday’s practice. The yelling and shouting in the mini-competition showed how ready they are to play.
“I think we’ve got one of the best receiving corps in the nation. We’re going to put on a good show Thursday,” Jeffery said.
After practice officially ended, Jeffery, as is his routine, stayed around to catch even more balls after others had left.
“I’m trying to get myself prepared to be the best receiver ever,” he said.