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By FITSNews || The NCAA is investigating University of South Carolina football program to determine whether senior tight end Weslye Saunders received improper gifts from an agent.

Investigators met with Saunders last week to determine his connection to a group of University of North Carolina football players who are at the heart of an ongoing NCAA probe.  During the meeting, Saunders is said to have been questioned about a trip he took to Miami earlier this year with UNC defensive end Marvin Austin, one of the Tar Heels at the center of the investigation.

Specifically, the NCAA wants to know who paid for hotel rooms and other expenses on the trip to Miami.

USC Athletic Director Eric Hyman issued a terse statement Sunday afternoon after news of Saunders’ connection to the investigation broke.

“The NCAA has been in contact with us regarding a possible rules violation in one of our programs. We have and will continue to cooperate fully with their inquiry. We have confidence in our compliance program and will work with the NCAA to bring this matter to a resolution in a timely fashion.”

USC head coach Steve Spurrier was initially unavailable for comment because he was (surprise, surprise) participating in a celebrity golf tournament.  Spurrier later confirmed to The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper that Saunders had been questioned by the NCAA.

Saunders caught 32 passes for 353 yards in 2009.  Three of those grabs were for touchdowns, including two touchdown receptions in the Gamecocks’ 34-17 evisceration of arch-rival Clemson.  He finished third on the team behind Alshon Jeffery and Moe Brown in receptions and fourth behind Jeffery, Brown and Tori Gurley in receiving yardage.

Given his size (6′ 6″ – 270 pounds) and speed Saunders is viewed as a prototypical NFL tight end.  Many expected him to declare his eligibility for the NFL draft last season, but he surprised his coaches by deciding to come back to USC for his senior season.

The NCAA has been cracking down on players receiving improper gifts from agents and boosters in recent years.  Earlier this year, the NCAA imposed harsh sanctions on the University of Southern California for a number of violations involving improper gifts.  In addition to a 2-year postseason ban and the loss of numerous scholarships, the Trojans may also be forced to vacate their 2004 national championship.

WEB EXTRA
Weslye Saunders

Pic: Travis Bell, Sideline Carolina