Saunders cleared to enter NFL draft

staff writerFebruary 15, 2011 

Editor's Note: An article in the Sports section Tuesday incorrectly characterized the reason for Weslye Saunders' dismissal from the University of South Carolina football team. He was dismissed for a violation of team rules.

Former South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders will be in the NFL draft after all.

The NFL cleared Saunders on Monday to enter the April draft and to attend the combine, Durham attorney Butch Williams said.

Saunders' draft status had been in limbo after a miscommunication between the league and Saunders, a former high school star at Durham Riverside.

"They've cleared up all the confusion," said Williams, Saunders' agent. "They did the right thing, and we're off to Indianapolis."

Saunders will attend the combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 24. Saunders, whose father, Barry, is a metro columnist for The News & Observer, has not played since the 2009 season, when he caught 32 passes for 353 yards for the Gamecocks.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier kicked Saunders off the team on Sept. 15 for his involvement in an NCAA investigation. Saunders, along with two former North Carolina players, defensive tackle Marvin Austin and receiver Greg Little, was investigated in connection with receiving improper benefits from an agent.

Saunders' draft status became an issue after he failed to apply for a "special eligibility" waiver before Jan. 15. The NFL invited Saunders to the combine on Jan. 3, Williams said, which they took as a sign that he didn't need a waiver.

On Jan. 24, the league notified Saunders he was ineligible for the draft. Shortly after, Williams made an appeal to the league, which was upheld on Monday.

At 6 feet 6 and 270 pounds, Saunders has NFL size and is projected as one of the best players at his position. But like Austin and Little, he will have to answer questions about his character during the draft process because of the NCAA investigation.

The draft is April 28-30 in New York.

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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