The final day of the NFL Draft was a frustrating one for South Carolina’s football hopefuls.
Only one Gamecock was selected Saturday during the draft’s final four rounds — defensive lineman Cliff Matthews, who was picked in the seventh round, No. 230 overall, by the Atlanta Falcons. Matthews joined defensive back Chris Culliver, who was selected in Friday’s third round, as one of two South Carolina players to be drafted this year.
Seven other Gamecocks — wide receiver Tori Gurley, defensive lineman Ladi Ajiboye, offensive lineman Garrett Chisolm, fullback Patrick DiMarco, offensive lineman Jarriel King, running back Brian Maddox and tight end Weslye Saunders — all entered the weekend with varying hopes of hearing their names called by NFL teams.
“I was always expecting the worst,” Saunders said.
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Saunders was considered one of the nation’s top tight ends following his junior season, but missed his senior season because of a suspension stemming from an NCAA investigation.
“It was frustrating knowing the reason I wasn’t getting picked had nothing to do with my athletic ability or my catching ability or anything like that,” he said. “That would be understandable. But (for NFL teams) to have character concerns about me being a bad person, being that I know it’s not true, I didn’t have a chance to prove to them that I’m not the person that they probably thought I was.”
This year’s labor unrest in the NFL makes Saturday even tougher on the players who were not picked. The owners’ lockout forbids teams from offering free agents deals to players. All seven of the undrafted Gamecocks normally would have been able to sign free agent contracts immediately following the draft. Now, they will have to wait until the end of the lockout.
“It seems like it’s one thing after another, but it’ll teach me a valuable lesson in patience,” Saunders said.