Former South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders admitted lying to NCAA investigators and said he took gifts from a person who is classified an agent runner by the NCAA on Friday at the NFL Combine. Below is a complete transcript of Saunders' interview.
Can you get your reputation back?
I think I will be able to. At the end of the day, I think everyone realizes I made a mistake. I suffered greatly for that mistake. I never was arrested. I never failed a drug test. I never was on academic probation. I think we’ll get a chance to prove ourselves.
What were you doing when you weren’t able to play?
I attended every home game. I was in the stands. I attended the SEC Championship as well as the bowl game. Week by week, I was attempting to get reinstated. I met with the NCAA. I paid my own way to meet with the NCAA and discuss everything they wanted to know and clear the air.
What was the lowest point?
The lowest point probably was when we beat Alabama. We beat the No. 1 team in the country. I was there, and I wasn’t part of it. To see how excited my teammates were, that just hurt. Also, when we beat Florida and we realized we were going to the SEC Championship for the first time in school history, that hurt a lot.
When you went to games, were people looking at you funny?
I went by myself. I have a different connection to the game than most fans. I know how the players are feeling. I know how everybody is feeling. Some of the fans said nasty things to me in the stands, but I tried to tune that out and be there to support my teammates, my family on the field.
How hard did you try to get back on the team?
I tried very hard. I actually met with the NCAA a third time, paid to come up here and meet with them at their headquarters here in October. They said nobody had ever done that before. I told them everything they asked. I told them everything they wanted to know just to see if there was anything I could do to get back on the field. I met with the athletic director; I wrote letters; I tried to petition. I did anything I could to get back on the field some way some how.
How many times did you meet with Eric Hyman and what did he tell you?
I met Mr. Eric Hyman four or five times and he pretty much said that I was the cause of the whole university being investigated, compliance and other athletes. It basically started around me. At the end of the day, I don’t want to say I was the scapegoat, but (Hyman said) it was me that caused all that hoopla so they were less inclined to allow me back on the team as another player.
Did you feel that it was fair or accurate to say you were the cause of it?
It’s not about fair, but I can understand where he is coming from. I think he did what he had to do for the betterment of the team and the athletic program.
What did they tell you you did to get kicked off the team?
Not being truthful and forthcoming is exactly what they told me. They said they didn’t feel like I had given as much information as I possibly could have and that I withheld information trying to protect myself and my friends at UNC. That was the actual violation.
Who told you that?
The NCAA as well as the athletic director.
Do you think you were forthcoming or had you held back?
I did hold back some information in those two interviews. That was completely out of fear. There is no excuse for lying, but being scared of the whole situation and knowing what happened to Dez Bryant and how his season was taken away, I panicked. Once I came to a realization on everything and met with the NCAA a third time, I got everything out on the table. That’s all I could ask for to get a little bit of closure.
Can you say what you accepted from agents if anything?
I didn’t accept anything from agents. It was the whole idea of not telling where I was getting some stuff and who I got it from. That was what got me in trouble. If I had just told the truth, the NCAA informed me that I probably would have missed a maximum of one or two games.
What did they ask about?
Trips I had taken to Atlanta and Washington, D.C., on my own ticket or with a friend, but nobody who was an agent or a runner or anything of that nature. But being that I was trying to protect the people I was with, I didn’t exactly tell who I had got it from him. It wasn’t exactly who I got it from that got me in trouble.
Was Marvin Austin on those trips?
Did you go to the Miami party?
You paid for your own trip to D.C. and to Atlanta?
No, the trip to D.C. a friend of mine paid for but all the other trips, I paid for on my own ticket.
Was your friend and agent or did they work for an agent?
What were the trips for?
Just leisure, trips in the summertime. On the weekends, a getaway.
So it was two trips, one to D.C. and one to Atlanta?
Yeah, that’s pretty much what they were investigating.
Did you stay in hotels?
Yes, I stayed in hotels. That’s coming out of my pocket.
Were they expensive?
Yes, they were the W hotel in Atlanta. In D.C., I think I stayed in the Radisson, nothing spectacular. I guess it looks bad. A college player is not supposed to make trips on the weekend I guess.
You said they told you would have missed one or two games if you had told the truth. Why would you have missed those games?
Because they met with me twice. The first time I panicked and I did hold some stuff back. The second time, they said they were going to meet with me on Friday, Aug. 13, and they actually came two days early and I didn’t have any representation or anything. There is no excuse for lying, but I did panic again and I did withhold some information. About three days later, I called the NCAA and asked to meet with them again and they pretty much declined.
What would you have missed games for if you had been honest?I didn’t go into it that much. After the third meeting, after I told them everything, they said, ‘If we had gotten this information at first, you probably would have missed one or two games.’
Would it have been just because a friend paid for it?
I’m not sure.
What did you think you needed to protect your friends from?
I’m not sure. But I did think they were investigating me for something. It was not just random. I panicked. I didn’t want to say anything to get anybody in any more trouble. I didn’t want to say anything to get anyone else in any more trouble. In hindsight, I just should have told the truth from the get-go. I just wasn’t sure what they were after. It felt like they were investigating a murder almost because they came in in the middle of the summer in a hot room at the Carolina Inn motel and pretty much put two recorders in my face and just started drilling me on questions. I was in there for almost four hours the first time and the second time.
Were you trading notes with Marvin (Austin) during this time?
No, we weren’t allowed to talk to each other during that time. That would have been another violation. Even though he has been my friend since senior year of high school. They said if you talk to each other during this investigation, that’s another violation. I had no clue what they were telling him.
When was the last time you talked to Marvin?
I talked to Marvin last week. We are no longer NCAA athletes. We have moved on from that. I congratulated Marvin on his performance in the East-West game and he congratulated me on being re-eligible for the draft this year
What was it like not being eligible for the draft briefly?
Nobody told me that I have eligibility left. I probably would have tried to play another year of college. We got all that straightened out. I would have had to literally sit around and wait for a year.
If you had eligibility left and could go back to college and play, would you?
I would have.
Have the Panthers talked to you?
They have not.
When was your last conversation with Steve Spurrier and how did it go?
My last conversation with Spurrier was pretty much asking what could I do to get back on the team. What could I do to get back eligible. Up the last week of the season, I tried to get reinstated every week. I tried to do whatever I could. I didn’t care if I played one game. I just wanted to get back out there and experience what my teammates were experiencing. He said he wished me the best. He would try to do whatever he could to help me out but at the end of the day it wasn’t his call. The athletic director made the decision, and I had to move on from that.
Do you think South Carolina coaches and officials will speak well of you when asked by NFL team officials?
I certainly hope so. I don’t know why they wouldn’t because I’ve come to the realization to be truthful with everybody, and I think a lot of people at South Carolina respected that. I have grown to love a lot of those people in that organization so I do believe they would vouch for me.
Beyond the lying, you think you did nothing that was an NCAA violation?
No, I believe I violated some NCAA policies. Such as the people I was associating myself with. One guy I thought was a friend at South Carolina who I won’t name. Turns out he was a runner for an agent, and I didn’t know. Taking trips with people I didn’t know exactly what they did. They weren’t actually agents and runners, but the simple fact that I didn’t know what they did was my fault. I shouldn’t have done any of that of that stuff. I probably should have just sat at home and be bored in hindsight. I can’t take that back. I paid dearly for those mistakes.
Was the person a former South Carolina player?
No. The NCAA classified him as a runner. He still denies he’s a runner. The NCAA classified him as a runner though. Yeah, he paid for things, just as any friend would. I paid for things for him, but obviously that wasn’t what was being investigated. Never mind that four years ago before I even got to South Carolina, I was friends with him and we would go to McDonald’s and stuff and I would pay for it. He’s from South Carolina, Columbia.
Will be at USC’s pro day?
Yes, I will be there. Coach Spurrier allowed me to come back and I was very gracious for that.
What kinds of things did you do to keep yourself in shape during the time away from football?
Actually, I was losing weight without having to do anything because I was so depressed, wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating because I had just had the game of football taken away from me. I did work out on my own. I wasn’t able to work out with the team, but Coach (Craig) Fitzgerald he has always been by my side and he told me a lot of workouts to keep doing while I was away from football.
How do you think this has affected your draft stock?
I think it has affected it some. Coming into the 2010 season, (Notre Dame’s Kyle Rudolph) and I were considered two of the top tight ends in the country. I think it’s my job during these interviews to let these teams know that I am still the same player that was considered one of the best tight ends.
Did you watch the combine and Hard Knocks on TV?
I got a lot out of it. I got that the game is a lot harder at this level, that it takes a lot more commitment. I watched those shows and took it with a grain of salt because you don’t really know until you are in it.
Did you watch Hard Knocks and what did you think?
Rex Ryan is a character. He’s a pretty funny guy, and they are very defense oriented, but I do look up to guys like Dustin Keller at the tight end position, the way he is able to elevate his game and elevate that offense, and I realize that the tight end can make a huge difference on certain teams.
(South Carolina teammate) Jarriel King said Thursday that some people could have described you as arrogant. Is that accurate?
I definitely have changed because I have realized that perception is reality. He is one of my closest friends, and he knew exactly how I was. I couldn’t understand why people would think that of me. That hurt a lot that people would say that about me. Instead of not caring what people think, obviously it does matter, and I have taken that approach. Not playing this season has humbled me so much that I don’t think there is an arrogant bone in my body except when I’m on that field, and I know that there is pretty much no one out there who can stop me. Outside of the game of football, I don’t think there is an arrogant thing about me at all.
Do you regret returning for your senior season?
I don’t regret coming back one bit because of spring ball and getting back on Coach Spurrier’s good side and losing the weight and him calling me a hard worker, that meant a lot. I don’t regret that at all, but I do believe it has hurt my draft stock a lot because I haven’t played, and a lot of other guys have film on them. I think that’s why I’m here, to prove to coaches that I’m still an athletic, 6-foot-5, 270-pound tight end that can make plays.
Do you think South Carolina will face NCAA sanctions because of this situation?
I don’t believe so. I think the actions that the athletic director took there were necessary, dismissing from the team and certain other key moves he has made. Pretty much he has admitted sanctions on the school himself, and I think the NCAA will look highly upon that.
How much would you have helped South Carolina on the football field this year?
I think I could have helped a lot. I believe in my abilities, and with Lattimore’s breakout season and Alshon being the main target on offense, I think I could have made a world of difference in a few plays here or there in certain games, especially Auburn and games like Kentucky and that hurt a lot. That was probably the most hurtful part, knowing I could have been out there helping my team to victory.
With the arrangement at The Whitney Hotel, who told you about staying there?
I think Jarriel had first stayed their because of a heart condition, and he had left one summer and I ended up staying in his rooms. One of the managers there asked me if I wanted a room there, and I was eligible to stay off campus that year and I decided to stay there as well. I didn’t know it was that much of a discount where it was a violation, but I did know that it was as discounted rate. I assumed that extended stays there were automatically discounted, which they are. I didn’t know it was to that extent. There were obviously a lot of student-athletes there. We didn’t know we were in trouble until we were already in trouble, but we tried to deal with it the best way we could. Jennifer Stiles and Mr. Hyman definitely handled it the best way.
How tough was this whole process on you?
It was the toughest thing I have ever been through in my life. I can’t explain how excited I was about this season. I just knew it was going to be my breakout season. I finally had gotten on Coach Spurrier’s good side. Everything was going great. I was getting exposure that I felt was necessary to take my game to the next level and it was taken away from me in an instant so it hurt a lot, especially having to watch from Columbia.
What were the low points like? How down were you?
I was down to the point where I would lock myself in my room and cut off my phone. It was mixed emotions because I was excited for my teammates but at the same time I was sad about not being able to be there. There were a lot of emotions going on, and I tried to deal with it the best way I could.
Did any of your other teammates spend time with the runner you are talking about?
Yeah, a lot of guys knew who he was. He was a big face around campus. He was who he called a friend. A lot of guys knew him down there.
Did he buy things for others on the team?
No, not that I know of. I can’t really speak on that.