TE Saunders part of South Carolina pro day

Dismissed tight end Weslye Saunders was back on South Carolina’s

practice field working out for NFL scouts Wednesday – and trying to

repair a reputation damaged by lying to the NCAA.

Saunders admitted at the NFL combine last month he had lied to

NCAA investigators over an inquiry into improper contact with

agents. He was also among several Gamecocks who lived at a local

hotel for discounted rates. Once a highly regarded prospect, the

6-foot-6, 273-pound senior was kicked off the team in September and

did not play a game his senior year.

So it was a contrite and humbled Saunders who took to South

Carolina’s practice facility in front of football personnel from 28

of the NFL’s 32 teams.

”I want to prove that I have good character, that I’m not a

character,” Saunders said.

Saunders was among several former Gamecocks auditioning for the

NFL, none expected to crack the draft’s first round. The crowd

watching included Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz.

Other former South Carolina players who took part were safety

Chris Culliver, defensive end Cliff Matthews and receiver Tori

Gurley, a 23-year-old who left the program with two years of

eligibility remaining.

Saunders, a large, rangy pass catcher known for running precise

routes, was considered one of the country’s premier tight ends

after choosing to return for his senior year. But in the summer,

Saunders met with the NCAA regarding trips he took and how they

were paid for. That led to the governing body discovering football

players living at the hotel for discounted rates, something South

Carolina’s compliance office signed off on.

Saunders acknowledged he dug himself an even deeper hole when he

lied to the NCAA, a choice that cost him his senior year on the

field. It also cost the Gamecocks an experienced tight end who

might’ve been a difference maker in the 9-5 season.

”The biggest lesson is always be truthful in whatever you do

and let the chips fall where they may,” he said. ”Fabricating a

story or not even telling the whole truth is just the same as

telling a lie.”

Saunders did not work out at the NFL combine because of a broken

bone in his left foot. He trained with the pain the past month to

prepare for this session.

”Maybe I got a few brownie points for it,” he said with a

smile.

Saunders is scheduled for surgery Friday and expects to need

four to six weeks to fully recover.

Saunders looked sharpest when catching passes. He ran his first

40-yard dash in day-glo green sneakers before changing into more

comfortable shoes for his final run. ”Good,” a scout shouted as

Saunders crossed the line.

Saunders caught 32 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns as

a junior in 2009.

It was also a homecoming for Saunders, who had to watch from the

outside as the Gamecocks won the Southeastern Conference Eastern

Division crown and played in their first SEC championship game. He

thanked athletic director Eric Hyman and coach Steve Spurrier for

allowing him to take part.

Spurrier shook Saunders hand on the field. ”He told me good

luck,” Saunders said. ”Coach Spurrier, he’s the guy who recruited

me.”

Saunders has not heard from the NCAA since last summer and feels

his part of the investigation is over. South Carolina, which

received a letter of inquiry from the NCAA last September, has not

heard any more about the probe’s findings or potential penalties.

The Gamecocks served three years of NCAA probation for five major

and five minor violations under former coach Lou Holtz.

Saunders thinks he’s improved his draft prospects, both with his

play and his talks with NFL personnel.

”At the end of the day, the scouts and the coaches knew I made

a mistake, but I didn’t commit any crimes or anything,” he said.

”I let them know that it would never happen again. They would

never hear my name anywhere but in the end zone catching

passes.”