Gamecocks' Byrd set to return from NCAA suspension
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina wide receiver Damiere Byrd is eager to get on the field and focus on football.
And it probably couldn't have come at a better time for the Gamecocks' stumbling offense.
Byrd was suspended four games and ordered to pay back $2,700 in impermissible benefits by the NCAA. He has regained his eligibility just in time as the 10th-ranked Gamecocks (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) prepare to host Auburn (3-1, 1-0) on Saturday.
"I'm just trying to put everything behind me," Byrd said this week.
Byrd, a 5-foot-9 wideout from Sicklerville, N.J., was among the most anticipated offensive first-year players in South Carolina's class. Coach Steve Spurrier regularly gushed during preseason camp about Byrd's quickness and his ability to get open and stretch the field.
But while Byrd was prepping for his expected college debut earlier this month against East Carolina, he learned the Gamecocks were holding him out because of NCAA eligibility concerns. The next week, Byrd learned he had to miss the first month of the season and pay back what the NCAA said were recruiting inducements from the Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation, an organization based in Delaware that says its mission is helping underprivileged students on and off the field.
Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was ordered to miss two games and return $2,700 in inducements by the NCAA for his involvement with the foundation.
Byrd's father, Adrian, is a foundation vice president. Foundation president Steve Gordon and treasurer Kevin Lahn are South Carolina graduates and considered boosters by the NCAA. South Carolina has cut ties with both of them.
The NCAA rejected South Carolina's appeal of Byrd's penalties. His recruitment and ties to the SAM Foundation were among three potentially major violations alleged by the NCAA against the South Carolina athletic program.
Spurrier is among several South Carolina officials asked to appear before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in February.
South Carolina has not wavered in its support for Byrd. Athletic director Eric Hyman said Byrd was completely up front with the school about the foundation during the recruiting process.
Spurrier even disagreed this week with calling Byrd's time away a suspension.
"I don't know if suspended is the correct word for (Byrd)," Spurrier said. "He's done nothing wrong, OK? He was just ruled ineligible."
Spurrier said Byrd would be among the top six receivers in the Gamecocks' three-wideout sets against the Tigers.
Right now, the Gamecocks are looking for any help in what's been an awful passing attack so far this season. Quarterback Stephen Garcia has thrown seven interceptions and just three touchdowns. Star receiver Alshon Jeffery doesn't have a 100-yard game - he had eight last season as an all-SEC first-teamer - and has only one TD. Jeffery has 14 catches while tailback Marcus Lattimore has 12. No other Gamecock has reached double figures in receptions. South Carolina's passing game ranks ninth in the SEC and 99th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
"We are going to need to pass the ball better, we know that," Spurrier said.
Byrd could help. He had more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage as a senior at Timber Creek Regional High in Erial, N.J. He's been clocked at 10.42 in the 100 meter and won the New Jersey state indoor 55-meter title as a high school sophomore in 6.39 seconds. Byrd's worked hard in practice, using it as an extended preseason to get himself prepared.
"I don't think the absence has hurt. I haven't taken off of practice, I haven't taken off of anything," he said.
Byrd relied on family, teammates and friends to keep his spirits up while he was sidelined. He was asked several times if he'd done something wrong or felt the NCAA was wrong in its decision.
"Whether I did anything wrong or not, the ruling is the ruling and I have to accept that," he said. "That's what I did and now I'm ready to play."
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