The story of Devontez Walker that Mack Brown told at ACC media days is an amazing one.
“Here's a young guy that signs with East Tennessee State, hurts his knee. They gray-shirt him, so he decides to go to NC Central instead of East Tennessee State. COVID year hits, so he can't play, so he transfers to Kent State. He has a great couple of years of Kent State, and then his whole coaching staff leaves. His grandmother is really sick. She's in Charlotte. She's never seen him play. He transfers back here because that's where he wanted to be in the first place. That's where the transfer portal is so good, to help kids get where they should be in the end, and he also is going to have his grandmother see him play for the first time here in Charlotte when we play South Carolina, and then she'll be able to drive to the home games.” Unfortunately, that story may not have the end that Mack Brown was hoping for.
The Tar Heels head coach broke the news during his presser on Tuesday that Walker’s transfer waiver has officially been denied by the NCAA. The denial reportedly stems from the fact that he is a two-time transfer, something that now requires players to sit out a year, a rule that was put in place back in January of this year. The new rule was officially enacted on January 11th, two days after Walker officially enrolled at Carolina. “He leaned his head on my shoulder and started crying,” wide receiver coach Lonnie Galloway said. “You can imagine what that does to a 21-22 year-old kid.”
Walker released this statement just moments ago.
The good news is that the staff seems confident that this will work out in the end, as they are currently appealing the NCAA's decision, but, for the time being, this is a massive blow. While Galloway says that the team is still in good shape, there is a reason why Walker was named a preseason All-ACC member and was the lone member of the Tar Heel receiving core that was on the Biletnikoff Award watch list. He was one of the most productive transfer receivers in the portal this offseason, catching 58 passes for 921 yards and eleven touchdowns.
Gov. Roy Cooper penned a letter to the NCAA earlier today in regard to Tez Walker's eligibility situation. In the statement, he laid out all of the facts about his previous stops, transfer timeline and family illness and asked for President Charlie Baker to "bring the same thoughtful and balanced approach to the rapidly evolving world of college sports" as he did when he was the Governor of Massachusetts. Here is the full statement from Cooper.
Andrea Adelson of ESPN received a statement from the NCAA that she shared on social media on Wednesday regarding the situation.
"On January 11, the Division I Council - which includes a voting representative from each Division I conference - voted unanimously to significantly tighten the criteria for undergraduate students who transfer for a second time to be granted a waiver to play immediately. As a result of the DI Council vote, multiple-time transfers who cannot demonstrate and adequately document a personal need for medical or safety reasons to depart the previous school are not eligible to compete immediately following their second undergraduate transfer. As a result of the DI council vote, national office staff, at the direction of NCAA members, have begun applying those criteria for multiple-time transfers for the 2023-24 academic year."
This statement takes some of the air out of the hopes that Walker's appeal will be a successful one. It seems evident that the NCAA is looking for a poster child for this new rule that is being enforced and Walker and Florida State defensive tackle transfer Darrell Jackson are the two that are being singled out. Both went about their transfers the right way at the time and are dealing with serious family medical issues, but the NCAA doesn't seem to care as long as they can prove they are still the ones in power. Meanwhile, schools are allowed to transfer conferences with callous disregard for their student-athletes while the NCAA sits back and enjoys. Remember, though, everything they do is in the best interest of the student-athlete.
In his mid-fall presser, head coach Mack Brown addressed where the situation stands with Walker. The team hasn't received any update on the siuation from the NCAA, nor have they been given a timetable. For now, with three weeks to go until the first game, Brown says the team is still full speed with him in practice.
Brown challenged new NCAA president Charlie to do the right thing with Walker's situation.
“I'm banking on Charlie Baker. If we are changing, it's time to change. And I'm banking on him stepping up and changing because it's what's best for this young man. It’s not about us. He is a good player. But if I say that I'm going to take care of every player and treat them like I'd want my son to be treated, that's what I'm trying to do in this situation. Tez needs to be able to play"
Brown is also very concerned about the affect that this is having on Walker mentally. "He's really struggling. I can’t imagine that some committee that’s sitting up in Indianapolis with doors closed, that has never met this kid, doesn’t have to step up and really look at mental health. If we're worried about student-athlete welfare, like we say we are. And if we’re worried about mental health, like we say we are. Because you’re taking away his opportunity to play. You’re taking away a guy’s opportunity to play that’s on the watch list for the best receiver in the country. You’re taking away an opportunity for a guy to play in the NFL. So you’re taking away opportunity for compensation, and you’re taking away most importantly he needed to be back close to home. And he needed his grandmother to see him play for the first time ever.”
These comments from Brown aren't nearly as reassuring as what we heard from him last Tuesday when the initial announcement of the waiver denial was made and that's to be expected. The closer we get to the season without a decision, the tougher the decisions will become for this staff. At some point, they will have to start preparing as if they will not have him. The question is, how soon will that be?
Prior to the kickoff of the game tomorrow, head coach Mack Brown released a statement on the lack of response from the NCAA on Walker's appeal.
This statement seems like one last hail mary from the Tar Heels' head coach to try to get a big piece of their offense eligible for Saturday's opener. As of right now, it seems highly doubtful that the NCAA will reach a conclusion on this before gametime tomorrow against South Carolina, meaning the team will need guys like J.J. Jones and Christian Hamilton to step up.
Mack Brown revealed that Walker will have a meeting with a committee that is outside of the NCAA, but that works with them on matters like on Thursday in an attempt to get cleared before Saturday's game with Appalachian State. His initial appeal was denied by a member of the NCAA office, causing him to miss the season opener against South Carolina with his family in attendance.
Brown revealed on Monday that he broke down after he realized that Walker was not going play. “I broke down when I heard he wasn’t going to play. He’s got a grandmother that’s never seen him play that’s sick. He’s got 30 tickets for family members that are going to come to this game. His life’s dream is to play at Carolina, his life’s dream is to play at the Panthers’ stadium. So I just broke down."
Walker's family still plans to attend the games in Chapel Hill this season regardless of the outcome according to Inside Carolina. On Saturday night, the entire family reportedly wore his jersey and they weren't the only ones. Country music star Eric Church, who was the Tar Heels' honorary captain for the game, wore his jersey out there for the coin toss and quarterback Drake Maye wore his jersey backwards in the postgame meeting with the press.
The hope is that this secondary committee will come through and make the right decision prior to Saturday's game. Brown says that the team will practice with him as if he play leading up to Thursday.