COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina receiver Damiere Byrd is
eager to get on the field and focus on football. And it probably couldn't 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
in time for the 10th-ranked Gamecocks (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern
Conference) to host Auburn (3-1, 1-0) on Saturday.
"I'm just trying to put everything behind me," Byrd said this
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, 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 under privileged students
on and off the field.
Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was ordered by 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 thrown seven interceptions and just three touchdowns. Star receiver Alshon Jeffery doesn't have a 100-yard passing game -- he had eight last season as an all-SEC first-teamer -- and 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 sidelined. He was asked several times if he'd done something wrong or felt the NCAA was wrong to 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."