ALBANY — Westover junior running back Shannon Saunders could return to the football field as early as tonight when the Patriots play Lee County at Hugh Mills Stadium.
Saunders, who has not played high school football since he was indicted for rape and aggravated assault on Oct. 20, 2011, never left Westover as a student but was suspended from all athletics until his case was resolved.
The charges were dropped on Nov. 8 when at District Attorney Greg Edwards’ discretion, the rape case that involved juveniles went to juvenile court jurisdiction and was called a statutory rape due to additional findings, Edwards said.
“After further investigation, the matter is best resolved in juvenile court,” Edwards told The Herald at the time. “We will be prosecuting it as statutory rape.”
The results of the juvenile court hearing were that Saunders was put on probation and had to meet a list of requirements.
“The investigator for the D.A., (Greg) Blackmon, informed me that there wasn’t enough evidence to support the (original) charges, and the District Attorney, Greg Edwards, and the judge agreed and that’s why the case was dropped to juvenile court,’’ Westover principal William Chunn said on Wednesday.
“The juvenile court made its ruling and gave him a list of criteria,’’ Chunn added. “He (Saunders) has met the criteria laid out by the juvenile court. He was fined and told to write a letter to the court. He also had to do community service and entered a mentoring program with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Mr. Bill Cox (President of the Albany FCA), along with a local minister, and he is still in that program. He is on probation.’’
Saunders was suspended from the football team in October. He was allowed to stay in school but did not compete in any extracurricular activities, such as playing for the basketball team or participating for the track & field team for the remainder of the school year.
In May, Saunders was cleared by the Dougherty County Superintendent’s office to participate in sports. He practiced with the football team in the summer and has been a member of the team since practice officially began in late July.
Saunders, who also plays linebacker for Westover, was eligible to play in the first two games of the season but didn’t play because of a groin injury. Westover football coach Octavia Jones said Wednesday he didn’t know if Saunders would play tonight or not, because of the injury, and added that when Saunders is healthy he will be playing again.
“He’s earned a second chance,” Chunn said. “He has been given one final opportunity by the Dougherty County School system to participate in athletics. I believe in second chances.’’