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Former S. Mississippi player pleads guilty

Former Southern Mississippi player Chris Buckhalter was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter in a 1997 slaying.

Buckhalter, 26, avoided a possible death penalty with his plea before the start of his capital murder trial Monday.

Buckhalter and three others were accused in the April 24, 1997, killing of Jason "Puddin" Langley, 22, and the shooting of Leonard McInnis at a Jackson apartment complex. McInnis was shot several times in the chest but recovered from the wounds.

Buckhalter, a four-year letterman at Southern Miss from 1992-95, surrendered in January 1998 after eluding authorities for nine months. He pleaded innocent last year but told Circuit Judge L. Breland Hilburn he was changing his plea in his own best interest.

"We were dealing with a capital murder charge, and you know what that can yield," Buckhalter's lawyer, Johnnie Walls Jr., said.

In addition to manslaughter, Buckhalter pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault. A 20-year sentence on that charge will run concurrent with the manslaughter penalty.

NOTRE DAME MAY GET A BREAK: Notre Dame's expected major violation of NCAA rules might not be reflected in the sanctions the university will receive.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the finding of a major violation is likely to result in a relatively light penalty.

The Tribune suggested that the NCAA's Committee on Infractions will respond to a complex, precedent-setting scenario by imposing probation status, possibly for two years, and removing few if any scholarships.

Any inclusion of the word "major" _ for the first time in Notre Dame history _ would create lasting damage to the university's image and reputation.

HOLTZ BACK ON THE FIELD: Lou Holtz jumped into South Carolina's first practice, drilling the Gamecocks on in-your-face fundamentals as he's done for 27 previous seasons.

Holtz, who took the job in December, has worked to improve the players' attitudes after going 1-10 last year, the school's worst season ever. Now, he focused on the smaller things, like blocking stances, quarterback handoffs and driving from the backfield.

In spring practice and the few freshmen-only workouts, Holtz has spent much time observing and taking notes in his golf cart. But the Gamecocks open at North Carolina State _ the first of eight bowl teams on the schedule _ in 25 days and Holtz knows how much must get done.

"You have to be intense at practice, no matter what string you're running with," said Holtz, who is conducting his first college camp since resigning from Notre Dame three years ago.

CLEMSON: Coach Tommy Bowden announced three position changes following the Tigers' first practice. T.J. Watkins moved from tight end to offensive tackle, Akil Smith went from tackle to guard and Oat Cyrgalis moved from fullback to tight end.

OBITUARY: Riley Smith, who quarterbacked Alabama to a national championship in 1934, died Monday after a lengthy illness. He was 88. Smith converted from fullback after the 1933 season and quarterbacked the Crimson Tide the next two seasons.