Josh Kendall

Zandi, Gamecocks hoping to prove NFL projections wrong

South Carolina's Mason Zandi just wants an opportunity

South Carolina offensive lineman Mason Zandi talks about taking part in Pro Day and the opportunity to play in the NFL.
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South Carolina offensive lineman Mason Zandi talks about taking part in Pro Day and the opportunity to play in the NFL.

This week could mark an inauspicious milestone for South Carolina, but former Gamecocks offensive lineman Mason Zandi is hoping to prove the pundits wrong.

“I’m going to have some family over on Saturday, and we’re going to cook out and hopefully get a chance to celebrate something special,” Zandi said.

He could be celebrating his selection on the final day of the NFL draft when Rounds 4 through 7 will be held in Philadelphia, but many mock drafts don’t project Zandi or any other former South Carolina player being picked in the draft. Round 1 will be held Thursday night, and Rounds 2 and 3 will be held Friday.

Seven-round mock drafts at FoxSports.com, CBSSports.com and NFL.com all predict that no former South Carolina players will be picked, which would be the first time that has happened since the 2001 season. The Gamecocks were coming off an 8-4 record in coach Lou Holtz’ second season. This year South Carolina is coming off a 6-7 record in Will Muschamp’s first season as head coach. Only four times since 1950 (2001, 1999, 1995 and 1978) has South Carolina seen a draft come and go without an alum getting picked.

Zandi said he will watch Thursday night’s first round not out of any expectation but because he “always does.” After that, it’ll probably be some fishing Friday to kill some time and then a hopeful Saturday.

“Last week, when about 14, 15 teams start calling you, you’re like, ‘Oh, this is about to get real,’ ” he said. “I’ve proven I am mature enough and motivated enough to continue working harder than I ever had, even when I don’t have a coach or a team I am working with.”

Zandi started 24 games for South Carolina, including all 13 last year. The 6-foot-9, 309-pounder came out of Chapin High School as a three-star recruit in 2012. He earned a political science degree while with the team. He ran a 5.15 40-yard dash, vertical jumped 31.5 inches, broad jumped 9 feet, 5 inches and bench pressed 225 pounds 21 times at South Carolina’s pro day.

During his phone calls with NFL teams, Zandi has gotten “a good vibe” from the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings, he said.

“Every time I have a conversation with one of their scouts or an offensive line coach or whoever it is, it always seems to be pretty positive and exciting,” he said.

If Zandi is not selected in the draft’s seven rounds, he likely will be signed by a team as an undrafted free agent, which would give him a chance to make an NFL roster.

“I’m just very thankful and very humbled and very blessed to be in the position that I am in,” Zandi said, “very excited.”

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