Sources: Terps OT Gaither declared academically ineligible

Once-promising Maryland offensive tackle Jared Gaither has been declared academically ineligible for the 2007 season, sources close to the situation said Wednesday.

Gaither, a rising junior from White Plains, Md., was held out of spring drills to concentrate on academics, but didn't meet requirements to play this coming season. He met with Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen on Tuesday to decide his future and is scheduled to meet with him again later this week.

Gaither has two options: enter the NFL's supplemental draft (he attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia in 2004 and two years with the Terps, making him eligible to turn professional) or return to Maryland this fall and attempt to become eligible for the 2008 season.

Sources said they believed Gaither was leaning toward returning to school this fall.

An NFL scout, who was attending former Georgia cornerback Paul Oliver's workout in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, said Gaither would be the most desirable player available if he enters the supplemental draft.
Gaither didn't allow a sack in 11 games as a freshman at Maryland in 2005.

Gaither, who started nine of 13 games in 2006, has tremendous size and athleticism. But the 6-foot-9, 350-pound tackle has been in and out of Friedgen's dog house during his two-plus seasons at Maryland. He quickly fell into academic trouble at Maryland and was suspended by Friedgen for last season's opener against Division I-AA William & Mary.

The Terrapins will have two new starting tackles this coming season. They also lost starting left tackle Stephon Heyer, who struggled during the 2006 season after recovering from a torn ACL that caused him to miss his entire junior season. Senior Scott Burley and junior Dane Randolph were the No. 1 tackles coming out of spring drills.

Randolph, a converted defensive lineman, started four games after unseating Gaither at right tackle late last season. Senior Scott Burley, who started in Gaither's absence against William & Mary in 2006 and has played in 13 games the last three seasons combined, is expected to replace Heyer at left tackle.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com.