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BLOG: Ole Miss’ Tunsil gets 7-game suspension, to return for A&M

When the Ole Miss football team takes the field again against Southeastern Conference competition, it will have its star offensive lineman.

Laremy Tunsil has received a seven-game suspension from the NCAA and will be able to return to competition against Texas A&M on Oct. 24. The school announced the NCAA’s ruling Monday night.

During its investigation, which has kept Tunsil out of the first six games and will make him miss one more Saturday against Memphis, the NCAA found that Tunsil received extra impermissible benefits, including the use of three separate loaner cars over a six-month period without payment, a four-month interest free promissory note on a $3,000 down payment on the purchase of a car, two nights stay at a local home, a plane ticket purchased by a teammate’s friend and the use of a rental car for a day, according to a school release.

Tunsil also wasn’t forthcoming when initially questioned by NCAA investigators about the loaner vehicles, according to the release, but later told the truth and apologized. The seven-game suspension was handed down as part of reinstatement conditions, which included demands from the NCAA that Tunsil pay the value of the extra benefits to charity, perform community service and make the down payment on the vehicle.

“I take full responsibility for the mistakes I made and want to thank everyone for their continued support,” Tunsil said in a statement. “I want to apologize to my teammates, coaches and the entire Ole Miss family for how my choices affected our program. This was a learning experience, and I’m looking forward to being back on the field with my team and redeeming myself.  The last 10 months have been a physical and mental battle for me, but I love playing this game more than anything else. I want to be here for my teammates who are depending on me to finish what we started together.”

The NCAA’s decision brings to an end a saga that began when Ole Miss announced before the season opener against Tennessee-Martin that the junior offensive tackle would be held out as a precaution as the school worked with the NCAA to look into possible rules violations. The school released another statement before the Fresno State game the following week that read in part “we have been preparing as if Laremy Tunsil will not play” and that “we have been assured that everyone is aggressively seeking a resolution.”

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has been asked on a weekly basis about Tunsil’s status but had little to offer. Freeze said following Saturday’s 52-3 win over New Mexico State and again Monday morning that the team expected a resolution early this week, adding “there’s some confidence” that it would happen.

“We have been supportive of Laremy throughout this process, and we are thankful he can return to competition starting with the Texas A&M game,” Freeze said in a statement Monday night. “More important than his football ability is his character, and I am confident that Laremy will grow from this experience and continue to be a positive member of the university and our football team.”

The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Tunsil was a first-team All-SEC preseason selection and is a projected first-round NFL draft pick. He’s the No. 4 overall player on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board for next year’s draft.

See Tuesday’s edition of the EAGLE for more.