Kent State transfer Devontez ‘Tez’ Walker has done everything by the book and he deserves the opportunity to play football at North Carolina this season.
On Monday, the wide receiver was recognized with the preseason honor of being named to the 2023 Biletnikoff Award watch list, a distinction given to the nation’s best catcher. However, his ability to revel in that honor has been dampened due to the NCAA denying his waiver for immediate eligibility.
According to head coach Mack Brown, the NCAA indicated approval of his waiver at the time, but that was prior to the rule change.
“Tez has only played football at one school and should be considered as a first-time transfer,” Brown told the media on Tuesday.
While UNC has submitted an appeal, the issue lies with the two-time transfer rule. Tez enrolled at North Carolina on January 9th and the NCAA made a rule change just two days later on the 11th, in an effort to double down on the eligibility of athletes who transfer multiple times. However, Tez isn’t a traditional two-time transfer and his journey to Chapel Hill hasn’t been linear.
Graduating from West Charlotte High School in 2019 as a three-star recruit, he committed to play football at East Tennessee State University, but his enrollment was deferred because he tore his ACL before even stepping foot on campus. He received the option to gray-shirt, meaning that he couldn’t play during the upcoming season and would instead begin the ensuing spring semester. Tez then decided to commit to North Carolina Central, but couldn’t play in any games because the Eagles canceled their season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His fervor for the game wasn’t going away and his innate desire to see the field led him to transfer to Kent State, where he finally made his collegiate debut during Week One of the 2021 season. Walker had a highly productive two seasons at Kent State, finishing 8th in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) in receptions (58) and completed his 2022 season with 921 yards and 11 touchdowns tying for first in the league. He also earned first-team All-MAC in 2022.
With two years of eligibility remaining, he hopped in the portal looking for an opportunity to be closer to his hometown of Charlotte and namely, closer to his grandmother.
“I decided to transfer from Kent St. was the stress and anxiety I was feeling being away from home, while my grandmother deals with health issues,” Tez said in a statement released by the school. “She is my rock, my everything, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.”
UNC is set to kick off its season in what will be a battle of the Carolinas. The Tar Heels will meet the South Carolina Gamecocks at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., a game that would mark the first time Tez’s grandmother would be able to see him play in person.
Through no fault of his own, Tez did not play football at Central and after seeing the field for the first time at Kent, his desire to be home still weighed on him causing an immeasurable amount of stress and anxiety—sentiments that have only worsened because of the waiver process.
Just last week he was selected to the 27-member All-ACC Preseason Team along with Preseason POY Drake Maye and star linebacker Cedric Gray.
“He’s not enjoying any of that because he’s dealing with all of this,” said UNC wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway. “We’re doing everything that we can to make sure that he doesn’t have to worry about that problem. His focus should be school and football.”
Below is a statement from Tez detailing his feelings about the situation:
For some time now, I’ve been working with the administration at the University of North Carolina to be eligible for this season. When I made the decision to transfer from Kent St. back to my home area at UNC, I did so thinking I would be able to play this year.
The way the rules were set up at the time, we knew we’d have to file a waiver as a two-time transfer, and in previous years, those waivers were being granted. But, after entering the portal and enrolling in classes, the NCAA voted to change the rule on two-time transfers and denied my waiver. We’ve filed an appeal and are waiting on a ruling, but I wanted to make sure everyone knew my story, so they could understand why I made the decision I did and why I feel I should be eligible this season.
The first, and main, reason I decided to transfer from Kent St. was the stress and anxiety I was feeling being away from home, while my grandmother deals with health issues. She is my rock, my everything, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. She took care of me when I was younger and being away from her and the rest of my family was very challenging and hard to deal with. It’s meant the world to us to be in the same area, where she’s just a short drive away and I have far more opportunities to be with her. There is also the added bonus that she would be able to see me play college football in person for the first time, since she wasn’t able to travel during my time at Kent St.
This whole experience has been extremely difficult on me and my family. One day, we feel the excitement of being closer to each other. The next day, we’re worried about whether or not I’m going to be able to play. Before, I was dealing with the stress and anxiety of being away from home. Now, I’ve been dealing with those same things through the waiver process and it’s just making things worse. This should be one of the happiest times of my life, and instead, I don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m struggling with all of it.
The second reason I believe I should be eligible is I’ve only played football at one school, so to me, this is really only my first transfer. I haven’t had an easy journey when it relates to college football. I thought I was going to East Tennessee St. out of high school, but a torn ACL put those plans on hold. I had to sit out that year while I was getting healthy because nobody wanted to take a chance on me. I got an opportunity the next year at NC Central, but both their fall and spring seasons were cancelled due to Covid. So, that is two seasons I missed due to no fault of my own. Before ever playing a down of college football, I headed of to Kent St. to give it another try and fortunately, found some success. I enjoyed my time at Kent St. and all of the people there were great to me. But, I knew it would be best for me to get back home and be around my family. At the same time, my coaching staff left for other jobs, so it seemed like the right time for a change that would help remove the
stress I was feeling.
With all of that factored in and more, we’re hoping the people making this decision realize the stress and anxiety that comes along with this and can provide a resolution quickly. I did everything within the rules to allow me to play this year, have clearly had some things happen that were out of my control, and have dealt with the mental anguish that comes along with all of it.
I want this to be over. I want to stop feeling like this. I just want to play. I want my grandmother to come watch me. I want to be a student and an athlete and I hope those in charge give me that opportunity.
The junior was poised for a breakout year with the Tar Heels – expected to be the program’s top threat on the outside this season and with just 3 ½ weeks until gameday, the NCAA must move quickly on a decision. The right one – allowing Walker to play this season. Until then the program, and Tez, will be left waiting.