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TE Weslye Saunders dismissed from Gamecocks

FILE - This Nov. 14, 2009, file photo shows South Carolina's Weslye Saunders (88) making a catch for a touchdown as Florida's Joe Haden (5) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Columbia, S.C. Suspended tight end Weslye Saunders has been kicked off South Carolina's football team for good. South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman announced the decision Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010. FILE - This Nov. 14, 2009, file photo shows South Carolina's Weslye Saunders (88) making a catch for a touchdown as Florida's Joe Haden (5) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Columbia, S.C. Suspended tight end Weslye Saunders has been kicked off South Carolina's football team for good. South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman announced the decision Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain, File)
By Pete Iacobelli
AP Sports Writer / September 15, 2010

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COLUMBIA, S.C.—The Weslye Saunders football saga at South Carolina came to an end on Wednesday, when the tight end was kicked off the team.

Athletic director Eric Hyman announced the decision in a statement and coach Steve Spurrier would not go into any details after practice later Wednesday.

"Most of you probably already heard, Weslye Saunders is not a member of our team anymore," Spurrier said. "That's probably about all we need to say about it."

Spurrier would not discuss details of the dismissal. "The fact is he's no longer a member of the team," the coach said. "I'm not talking specifics."

Saunders, suspended since Aug. 23, had been at the center of the Gamecocks' NCAA problems this summer. He was questioned by the governing body about potential agent contact regarding a party in South Beach, Fla., this spring. He was also among several Gamecocks asked by coach Steve Spurrier to leave a local hotel where they had been staying.

Saunders was suspended by Spurrier for violations the coach said were not connected to the NCAA probe. Saunders has not been with the team since, missing both South Carolina victories over Southern Miss and Georgia.

The 13th-ranked Gamecocks (2-0) face FCS opponent Furman on Saturday night.

Spurrier wished Saunders the best. Saunders would remain on scholarship through the academic year and "hopefully, he'll stay and graduate," Spurrier said.

Saunders, from Durham, N.C., did not immediately respond to messages left by The Associated Press. Calls to his father, Barry, were also not immediately returned.

The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Saunders was South Carolina's third leading receiver last fall with 32 catches for 353 yards and three touchdowns. He had started 13 games over the previous two seasons and leaves the Gamecocks with 60 career catches for 718 yards and six touchdowns.

Spurrier used receiver Tori Gurley in the tight end spot to start the past two games. Fullback Patrick DiMarco has worked there since summer camp and Spurrier said Wednesday that defensive lineman Melvin Ingram has also practiced at Saunders' position.

"We're going to miss Wes, but we just have to move on," Gurley said. "We have guys who are going to step up in that tight end role to be successful. I just pray Weslye does everything he's supposed to do and wish him the best."

Gurley said Spurrier and the assistant coaches have kept the Saunders' saga from distracting the team. How long it will dog the Gamecock athletic program is another matter.

South Carolina received a letter of inquiry from the NCAA last Thursday about its football program.

Cornerback Chris Culliver and offensive lineman Jarriel King missed the season openers with questions about their eligibility. Both were cleared to play in the 17-6 win over Georgia last week.

Saunders would've been an asset for the Gamecocks' SEC chances this fall. His size and strength have him regarded by some analysts as a high pick in next spring's NFL draft. Earlier this summer, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. had Saunders as his No. 2 tight end behind Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph.

However, Saunders has had his troubles fitting in at times. He considered jumping to the NFL last winter before returning for his senior season, then was suspended briefly by Spurrier in January for missing a team meeting.

Saunders was reinstated to the team about a week later.

In July, Spurrier said Saunders had told the coach he'd done nothing to violate NCAA rules and, for awhile, it looked as though the senior would be a vital part of South Carolina's offense.

Spurrier praised his conditioning and hard-working attitude when camp opened in August. Saunders led the way with four catches at a Gamecock scrimmage on Aug. 21. But two days later he was suspended by Spurrier and never rejoined the team.

"We wish him the best in whatever he does," Spurrier said.

(This version CORRECTS Updates with details, quotes following South Carolina practice; Spelling of Weslye is correct.)