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Gamecocks, Spurrier hope to focus on Southern Miss after eventful preseason camp

It hasn't been the peaceful, drama-free South Carolina camp Steve Spurrier hoped for.

Standout tight end Weslye Saunders has been suspended for almost a week with no indication when he might return. There's been the missed practice time of players who Spurrier told to move out of a local hotel where they had stayed. And there are the lingering injuries to key performers like fullback Pat DiMarco, a team captain, and linebacker Shaq Wilson, the Gamecocks' leading tackler last season.

But Spurrier says his players have put all that aside and worked to make sure they're ready for action when they open against Southern Miss at Williams-Brice Stadium on Thursday night.

"We really haven't been distracted," Spurrier said late last week. "Things happened all the time and some unforeseen things happened this year at preseason practice."

The biggest has involved Saunders, a solid tight end considered a high NFL draft pick next spring. He has met with the NCAA about a party in Miami last May and was among those players living at the hotel.

Spurrier suspended him Aug. 23, two days after he led all South Carolina receivers during a scrimmage. The coach said Saunders' suspension was not connected to NCAA issues or his hotel stay.

Saunders issued a statement through a local radio station Friday saying he had done nothing wrong and had smoothed out his misunderstanding with Spurrier. Still, Saunders, the team's third-leading receiver with 32 catches last year, was nowhere on South Carolina's depth chart for the opener.

"I'm not going to talk about his situation," Spurrier said after practice Saturday. "We're still on hold with him."

Also on hold is what, if anything, may happen to those players who lived at the hotel at discounted rates, which the NCAA could consider an extra benefit. Spurrier told those involved to pay their bills and get out.

However, several have missed practice time or arrived late to workouts as they handled the situation.

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, in charge of the secondary, worked Tuesday without starting safety Akeem Aguste and backup cornerback C.C. Whitlock. Defensive lineman and captain Ladi Ajiboye was late to that session because of what assistant coach in charge of defense Ellis Johnson said were issues about the hotel.

Ward didn't know if Aguste and Whitlock would play Thursday night, although both are on the depth chart.

Spurrier expected a decision about potential penalties before game time. He said last week that typically in such cases a player is forced to miss a game or two and South Carolina would accept the decision and move on.

He stressed he had not heard anything from the NCAA. And Spurrier said he wouldn't hold out anyone from playing against Southern Miss in fear of a ruling not yet made

"If we don't hear any news, we'll play everybody we've got," he said. "Well, almost everybody we've got."

Spurrier could've meant Wilson, the fiercesome linebacker who's worked out with the team just once since Aug. 3. Spurrier did not want to risk using Wilson unless he was healthy. If Wilson can't go, South Carolina would most likely use senior Tony Straughter or sophomore Quin Smith.

At tight end, senior captain DiMarco is listed as the starter in place of Saunders with untested sophomores Justice Cunningham and Mike Triglia as backups.

Spurrier says he'll go with the guys eligible to play and won't worry about those who aren't.

"It's just like a guy got hurt in practice, he can't play this week," Spurrier said. "And if something happens, some guys can't play this week, well we've got other guys and you keep moving on."