Saunders Eager For Crack at Tar Heels

2007 USC tight end signee Weslye Saunders was a special guest on Gamecock Anthem Radio Wednesday morning, and Saunders, who surprised many North Carolina fans by committing to the Gamecocks over the home state Tar Heels in early February, said he is anxiously awaiting USC's mid-October trip to Chapel Hill this season. Read inside for the full transcript from Wednesday's interview with Saunders.

Gamecock Anthem Radio aired its' second show on 90.5 WUSC FM in Columbia on Wednesday morning. As the only radio show in the state of South Carolina that offers "All Gamecock talk, all the time," Gamecock Anthem Radio is the perfect show to help USC fans get their Gamecock fix, especially during the summer months when football deprivation begins to set in. Be sure to tune in every Wednesday morning from 8-12 throughout the summer to hear great interviews like the one below and enjoy in depth discussion on South Carolina football, recruiting, baseball and much more. To learn more about Gamecock Anthem Radio, click here: LINK

Interview with 2007 tight end signee Weslye Saunders:

Question: First question for you, Wes. South Carolina clearly has a huge void to fill after losing wide receiver Sidney Rice to the NFL, and even after spring practice, questions still linger about who is going to step up and help fill his spot in the offense. But one threat that the Gamecock offense has almost never had is a pass catching tight end that can hurt opposing defenses with the ability to get open and make plays after the catch. Thus you've got a great chance to come in and make an immediate impact. What exactly have the South Carolina coaches told you about the possibility of seeing the field early and making an impact this season?

Answer: They've actually told me about the void that needed to be filled. They told me that I have a great opportunity to come down there and play right away. I'm just going to go down there and work hard and show the coaches my ability, and we'll see what happens from there.

Question: You've obviously got a great combination of size and athleticism that makes you a dangerous weapon at the tight end position. Why don't you give our listeners a little taste of what they can expect from you this season. What strengths would you say that you bring to the football field as a tight end?

Answer: My main strength is probably my awareness on the field. I like to look at mismatches, and I like to see the defense's strengths so I can go for their weaknesses. That's probably my biggest asset. You're going to see a lot of hard nosed blocking, catching and getting the ball up field.

Question: One fact that I think many people aren't aware about you is just how versatile you were on the football field for your high school team up there at Riverside. Can you give a brief rundown of every position that you played during your run to the state championship game last season and throughout your high school days?

Answer: Well, I started off at defensive end and played a little defensive tackle. On defense, I (also) played a little bit of middle linebacker and outside linebacker. I played some quarterback and played some wideout. I got down and played some tight end on offense. I pretty much played all over the place.

Question: So at roughly 6'5" and 270 pounds, you had the versatility and athleticism to play all of those positions?

Answer: Yes sir.

Question: You must be quite the athlete to be able to pull all that off, and obviously you can do some pretty impressive things on the football field. Is there any player that you tend to model your game after out there?

Answer: At tight end, I definitely like to model my play after Kellen Winslow. I really like the way he gets open, and as soon as he gets the ball, he's cutting up field trying to make something happen. He's not just satisfied with the catch, and that's how I try to model my game after him.

Question: We talked about what strengths you bring to the football field, but as an incoming freshman this year, what areas of your game would you still like to improve in at the tight end position?

Answer: I'd definitely like to improve my run blocking skills. We didn't have to do too much hard nosed run blocking with the spread offense we had (in high school), so I'd definitely like to get that improved as well as my speed. I consider myself to have pretty good speed, but this is the SEC. I've got to step it up a notch.

Question: Have you talked at all with Tight End's Coach Fred Chatham about what he expects of you out there this year?

Answer: Yeah, he's told me basically the same thing the other coaches have told me. They expect me to hit the ground running when I get there in July and to stay on the workout regimen they sent me. So we'll see where it goes from there.

Question: I'm sure you're excited about taking your game to the next level this fall and competing against some of the best talent in the country in the SEC. With that in mind, what kind of personal goals have you set for yourself in your upcoming freshman season?

Answer: I'm coming in with an open mind. Obviously I'm not going to put up the numbers that I put up this past year or the year before that in high school, so I don't want to go up there with too many expectations for myself, but I also want to be a contributing factor in the offense and do whatever the coaches ask of me. Hopefully I'll just make a contribution anyway I can.

Question: One of the newer rules in college football allows freshmen like yourself to get a head start on the college experience and join the team workouts for the second session of summer school. Do you happen to know when you're planning on arriving at USC to begin working out with the team?

Answer: Yes, the first week of July I should be down there. I believe it'll be July 5th or 6th.

Question: What are you doing in between now and then to basically gear up for the 2007 season?

Answer: I've been doing the workout regimen they sent me, and actually my dad got me in touch with (George) "Pup" Williams, the Olympic track coach for Beijing in 2008. I've been working on my speed with him, and hopefully I'll be down to a 4.5 by the time I get down there to South Carolina. That's helped me a lot, and I'm just working on my conditioning.

Question: A 4.5 would be fantastic. What's the fastest 40-yard dash time that you've recorded so far?

Answer: So far my fastest was a 4.66, and that's continually going down, so I can't wait to see what it looks like after I shed a few pounds.

Question: Has anyone told you what to expect with USC's strength and conditioning program under Mark Smith? I've heard those workouts can be pretty intense.

Answer: Yeah, they pretty much warned me, telling me whatever kind of workouts I'm doing on my own and how rigorous they are, they're nothing compared to what Coach Smith has planned for us. I'm not really scared, but I'm kind of anxious to see what he has planned, and I'm just trying to work hard so it won't be too bad when I get down there and I won't pass out.

Question: I understand that you're a star on the basketball court as well as on the football field, and I think you had a chance to get out there and play with some of your fellow prospects on your official visit to South Carolina. Have any of the other 2007 signees been able to keep up with you on the basketball court?

Answer: No, not at all (laughs). I was actually planning on being a basketball player before I got a little heavier, and I didn't grow anymore. Basketball has always been my forte, so besides Cliff Matthews, I don't really think anybody's close.

Question: Would you say that playing basketball has helped you develop your athleticism over the years and helped you transfer that athleticism onto the football field?

Answer: Basketball has helped, but most of all it was soccer. Soccer was my first love. I loved playing soccer way back when I was eight up until high school. That's always helped me with my footwork, and basketball has just been icing on the cake.

Question: Okay, let's take a quick look back at the recruiting process for you. Obviously you were an extremely highly touted prospect up there in North Carolina, and you had offers from major programs like Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina, Clemson and others. But what was it about South Carolina that stood out to you in the end and helped you decide to commit to the Gamecocks?

Answer: Actually, I can remember the exact moment that it stood out to me - Watching that Auburn game and watching the fans rally behind the players and just seeing how poised the program was. I hate to say it, but when (Jared Cook) dropped the pass in the end zone, I was just thinking, ‘That could be me.' That was pretty much the deciding factor for me and what put South Carolina ahead of the rest.

Question: Was it pretty exciting for you to have other top North Carolina players like Travian Robertson, Chris Culliver, Jason Barnes, Melvin Ingram and those guys join you at South Carolina?

Answer: Yeah, it was pretty exciting for me, being as I was with those guys down at the Shrine Bowl. I got to know those guys, and it kind of took a little bit of pressure off me because I didn't feel like I was going down there alone. That was another deciding factor for me also.

Question: How special is it for you to be a part of a class that most people are calling the best recruiting class in the history of the South Carolina football program?

Answer: It's pretty special to me, but I take it for what it's worth. We really haven't proved anything yet. Once we get down there and start winning some football games, then I'll be able to look back and be proud of having the best recruiting class in South Carolina history.

Question: Have you kept in touch with any of your fellow 2007 signees over the past few months here?

Answer: I talk with Jason Barnes every once in a while, and Chris Culliver, I talk with him a few times a month. I talk to those guys a lot. I saw them down at the spring game, and we keep in touch.

Question: I understand that you've become pretty good friends with Mark Barnes too. I think you two roomed together during a visit to Louisville and really hit it off. How much of an influence did he play into your decision to join South Carolina?

Answer: Oh man, once he committed, he was calling me every few hours or so and sending me texts telling me I need to come to South Carolina. Being that Mark Barnes is such a good player and such a good friend, I took his advice for what it was worth. That was also a big factor in (my decision).

Question: Alright, I've just got a few more questions for you here, Wes. When you look at South Carolina's 2007 schedule, is there a certain game that stands out to you where you just say, ‘I can't wait to play against those guys.'

Answer: October 13th at North Carolina. I'm ready for that game in Chapel Hill. I catch a lot of flack around here with people egging my car and writing UNC on my car and everything. They're upset that I'm not a Tar Heel. It's pretty crazy around here, so I can't wait to get down to South Carolina and get prepared for these Tar Heels.

Question: I know a lot of times incoming freshmen are excited about picking out what jersey number they're going to wear in college. Do you have an idea of what jersey number you're going to be wearing this season?

Answer: Coach Chatham said it's probably looking like #88, but I kind of wanted a single digit number to kind of switch things up a little bit. I'm trying to egg him on to give me a single digit. It doesn't matter what number it is. I'm trying to convince him to give me one of those, but if I don't get one of those, it's probably going to be #88.

Question: Speaking of jerseys, what are your thoughts on South Carolina's new Under Armour uniforms that they'll be wearing this season?

Answer: They're beautiful. They're real nice. You play how you look and how you feel. That's not always the case, but for me personally, I know I play well when I look good. I can't wait to get in there.

Question: I know you were out there at South Carolina's Garnet and Black Game last month, so I'm sure you kind of keyed in on watching the performance of the tight ends. They've got young guys like Nick Prochak and obviously some older guys like Andy Boyd, who sat out with injury, but what were your thoughts on USC's current tight ends?

Answer: I respected their play, but then again, I was also real anxious to get down there and try to compete for a job. I feel like I have a great opportunity to compete for a job. Not downing those guys at all. They did a great job, but I also believe in my talent and believe that I can go down there and compete for a starting job.

Question: I've got to tell you, Wes, everyone in South Carolina is pretty excited right now about the direction of the Gamecock football program under Steve Spurrier and the potential to do things that have never been done before in Columbia like win an SEC Championship and possibly even contend for a national championship. How excited are you about coming into a situation like that where you can be a part of something special and help USC reach those goals?

Answer: I'm very excited. I'd like nothing better than to go down there to South Carolina and win a lot of ball games, win an SEC Championship and a national championship. You know, to have people recognize me and the rest of this class as the ones who started it all. I'm very excited about it. I think about it everyday, and I'm ready to get down there. I'm counting down the days til' I go down there.

Question: I've just got one more question for you, Wes. Obviously the Gamecock Nation is excited about you arriving in Columbia in the next few months here. Is there any message that you'd like to pass on to the South Carolina fans before you go?

Answer: Get ready to win. That's all I can say. I can feel it in my bones that we're going to have a special couple years there. Even this year coming up, it's going to be something special.

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