Senior tight end Weslye Saunders looked good to go in the opening practice, shaking his off-the-field issues Tuesday night.
Saunders, who caught 32 passes last season, has been pulled into an NCAA investigation of college players attending a Miami party. Investigators are attempting to determine whether an agent paid the flight and hotel costs for players who attended a South Beach party in May.
USC coach Steve Spurrier doesn’t know where the investigation stands.
“You guys know as much as we do about all that,” he said.
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But he did know that the 6-foot-5 Saunders looked sharp in practice, making one nice running grab on a long pass play.
“Yeah, Weslye’s actually in the best shape he’s ever been in,” Spurrier said. “He’s down to about 260-something. He weighed about 285 last year. So he’s doing OK.”
Sophomore cornerback Stephon Gilmore was one of 35 defensive backs across the country named to the 2010 Jim Thorpe Award preseason “watch list.” The 6-1, 188-pound sophomore from Rock Hill, who garnered Freshman All-America team honors last year after starting every game and piling up 56 tackles with one interception, already was named to the first-team preseason All-SEC team by the league's coaches and media
Ronald Byrd, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle from LaGrange, Ga., was not at the practice after leaving the program. Byrd did not play last season after being redshirted for a torn ACL suffered in August drills.
“He needs a fresh new start somewhere so we wish him the best wherever he’s going,” Spurrier said.
Two of the team’s top players didn’t practice: Sophomore receiver Alshon Jeffery, who had wisdom teeth pulled, and senior tackle Jarriel King, who had a slight hamstring strain. Junior guard Rokevious Watkins had a stomach virus that kept him from practicing. Jeffery might be back Wednesday night. With King and Watkins out, a few new faces received some opportunity.
“Those freshman linemen hung in there, though, Ronald Patrick, A.J. Cann, Tramell Williams,” Spurrier said. “Of course, they’ve got to go. We’ve only got about 10 linemen right now. We’re down a little bit. But those guys are going to be good players, we believe.”
Freshman Corey Simmons, the Lawrenceville, Ga., native who is listed as a tight end on the roster, got some looks at the defensive line. No wonder. He’s the son of former NFL defensive end Clyde Simmons, Jr., a two-time Pro Bowler.
There was another football coach at Tuesday’s practice, but he wasn’t on the playing field. It was Mark Berson, who coaches the sport at USC that the rest of the world calls football. Entering his 33rd season this fall guiding the soccer program, Berson was there to show support as well as check out kicker Joey Scribner-Howard, the Irmo-area native and transfer from Carson-Newman who once played for Berson’s youth club soccer team. Berson, who noted he was pulling for eventual champion Spain in the World Cup this summer, likes his team’s chances to be competitive in Conference USA this season.
Quote of the day
“We’ve got a bunch of guys we’re going to enjoy coaching. They’re going to give a lot better effort. As our fans know, the effort in our last game didn’t look very good. Hopefully, this will be a team that they can really be proud of,” USC coach Steve Spurrier on his team’s fresh start after last season’s disappointing loss to UConn in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
The Gamecocks will practice at 7:30 Wednesday night. It will be open to the public.