Weslye Saunders punished for violation

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Weslye Saunders' future at South Carolina Gamecocks is unclear after the tight end was suspended by coach Steve Spurrier on Monday.

Spurrier said Saunders would be held out indefinitely for violating team rules -- and not for any potential findings from this summer's continuing NCAA inquiry centered around the 6-foot-6 senior. He was not at practice Monday night.

Saunders was questioned by NCAA investigators looking into possible rules violations at a party in Miami in May. Spurrier has said Saunders told the coach he'd done nothing wrong.

Saunders also was among several players Spurrier told to leave a local hotel and find other living arrangements.

"I said suspended for violation of team rules. Team rules have nothing to do with the NCAA," Spurrier said.

Saunders has not spoken publicly this summer. Spurrier said on his radio call-in show last week that he expected the NCAA to have a ruling about the tight end's eligibility before the Gamecocks open the season against Southern Miss on Sept. 2.

The NCAA has investigated Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia along with South Carolina concerning the South Beach gathering.

Saunders was a highly touted prospect from Durham, N.C., who picked the Gamecocks and Spurrier's pass-happy offense over Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina among others. He showed signs last fall of becoming a main target for South Carolina, catching 32 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns.

Saunders entered the summer as the backup to 6-foot-1 senior Patrick DiMarco. However, Spurrier has praised Saunders' conditioning and practice habits for much of preseason camp. He had four catches for 63 yards in last Saturday's scrimmage, including a 10-yard TD pass from Stephen Garcia.

Saunders was among 31 players on the watch list for the Mackey Award, given the to the country's top tight end, and could be a high-round pick in next spring's NFL draft.

But the suspension puts Saunders' spot in the lineup in doubt and takes away one of the few experienced pass catchers for fourth-year passer Garcia. South Carolina's three expected starting wide receivers -- Alshon Jeffery, Tori Gurley and D.L. Moore -- are sophomores. The other tight ends on South Carolina's roster had a combined 16 receptions last season.

Spurrier wouldn't say when or if Saunders would be reinstated.

"His status will be determined at a later date," Spurrier said. "Now how else can I say that?"

Without Saunders, the Gamecocks will use reserves Justice Cunningham and Mike Triglia during workouts. DiMarco has been slowed during camp with a cracked bone in his left forearm.