College Sports

USC freshman Saunders quick with feet and learning

From the beginning, Barry Saunders made his eldest son read book after book. Weslye lapped them up, with one notable exception.

"I wish he would read 'Don Quixote,' which I think is the best book I've read," Barry Saunders said. "I've given him three or four copies, but for whatever reason he hasn't yet."

In that case, Weslye Saunders might not catch the following reference -- so far there have been no tilting at windmills, when it comes to his college football career.

On a South Carolina football team brimming with freshman talent, Saunders has created a buzz with his pass-catching ability. Despite the number of tight ends on the roster, his coaches insist Saunders will play this season.

"He's got a chance to be as good as he wants to be," tight ends coach Fred Chatham said.

Then come the 'as long as' caveats. The 6-foot-5 Saunders needs to come way down from his current listing of 283 pounds, which coach Steve Spurrier said is too big for a pass-catching tight end. Chatham also wants Saunders to learn how to "play at the highest level," which means run-blocking and going hard on every play.

Saunders seems ready for the challenges, especially losing weight. He and Spurrier have made a bet on who can lose 10 pounds the fastest.

"Whoever loses has to run the stadium," said Saunders, who then smiled and added, "He's going down."

While Chatham and Spurrier provide the on-field push for the player, his father provides it off the field.

Barry Saunders is a longtime columnist for the News and Observer in Raleigh, N.C., where he focuses on local issues. But he vows not to write much, if at all, about Weslye's exploits, and that football seldom comes up in their conversations.

"When I discipline him, it'll be for stuff off the field," Barry Saunders said. "I'll leave it to coach Spurrier and coach Chatham to discipline him for the dropped passes."

His father never pushed Saunders into football, instead pointing him at a young age toward soccer, which he thinks improved his footwork. But Weslye kept bugging his dad to let him try football, and he finally did in middle school.

It was then his son's potential became apparent. Lloyd Edwards -- Barry Saunders' best friend and the father of former USC linebacker Kalimba Edwards -- told Barry his son was a sure Division I talent.

When the recruiting letters started arriving three years ago, Barry decided to stand back and let Weslye come to his own decision. But in the week before signing day, Weslye agonized between USC and North Carolina, and both parents stepped in.

"They were just telling me, 'Do I really want to stay around the area?'" Weslye said. "I've been around the Chapel Hill area, and in North Carolina my whole life. It kind of swayed me to play in the SEC, a great conference, and coach Spurrier is such a competitor. It was the place for me."

The son made another decision. He plans to major in journalism and English and could end up following his father.

Weslye might have plenty of options, including football. A broadcasting professor at USC recently told him he could have a future in that field.

"But, right now, writing is where I want to be," Saunders said.

And eventually, he may pick up 'Don Quixote.'