Ace Sanders, South Carolina’s leading receiver and one of the nation’s most dangerous punt returners, won’t return next season barring a last minute change of heart.
Sanders, a 5-foot-8, 178-pound junior from Bradenton, Fla., announced late Tuesday through his Twitter account that he plans to enter this year’s NFL Draft. Tuesday was the final day for college underclassmen to declare for the draft, although the NFL allows players to change their minds if they don’t sign an agent or take anything of value from an agent can withdraw from the draft within 72 hours of today’s deadline.
“Day full of emotion. Thank you everyone apart of #GamecockNation,” Sanders posted on his Twitter account at 9:59 p.m. “I appreciate everything you did for me. #TearsofJoy. I love you guys!!!”
Shortly after that, Sanders retweeted a congratulatory note from former teammate Stephon Gilmore, who wrote, “S/o to my homie @AceSanders1 going pro, another gamecock going to make his dream come true. Good luck bro work hard.”
Sanders has been projected by some to be a top 100 pick. On Wednesday, however, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper predicted Sanders as someone who would be drafted in rounds four through seven.
Sanders responded on Twitter: “Don't care what Kiper says.. I'm just going to grind hard and wait on the outcome so just let me live with my decision.”
Sanders caught 45 passes this season for 531 yards and nine touchdowns, but he made his biggest impact on special teams, where he was fourth in the nation in punt returns with 15.3 yards per return.
He returned two punts for touchdowns this season and set the school’s single-season record with 429 yards on punt returns.
Sanders saved his best game for last, catching nine passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns and returning a punt 63 yards for a touchdown against Michigan in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1. On Jan. 7, Sanders posted a photo of himself on the picture sharing service Instagram with the caption “1 More Year!!,” but it looks like Gamecock fans won’t get to see that final season.
Sanders, the son of former NFL player Tracy Sanders, entered the season with 54 catches and 699 yards.