CHAPEL HILL, N.C. –– The Tar Heels, once again, took care of business against Miami, but perhaps more importantly, the return of wide receiver Tez Walker has changed the tenor of North Carolina’s season.
Two weekends ago against Syracuse was Walker’s first game back since getting his eligibility reinstated. He came out the tunnel, North Carolina flag in hand, as he made his long-awaited return to the field.
But it was last weekend against Miami, where he proved that he might be the X factor UNC needed to boost its offense.
Against Miami, Tez threw the “U” down after reeling in his third touchdown of the night, a 33-yard reception. Just five minutes earlier, he reeled in a 56-yard pass to open the third quarter. He finished the night with six catches for 132 receiving yards, lifting the Tar Heels to a 41-31 victory.
North Carolina was good without Walker, but now they have the chance to be great.
“We were 4-0 without him,” head coach Mack Brown said. “Obviously, we have the chance to be much better with him. And now that people have seen him it’s going to change the way people play defense against us. His presence is a game-changer.”
Just a week prior, Walker was still training with the scout team, thinking that the plight regarding his eligibility had come to a close. He was not going to be able to see the field this season. Until he did.
“He’d been on scout team for three straight weeks and he didn’t know the game plan,” Brown said after the win over Syracuse. “He played 56 plays, so he played a lot and he messed a few things up because he wasn’t practicing. But this week we’ll go back and get him in the rotation and be able to put him out there.”
Tez wanted to make his teammates better and they definitely appreciated his efforts.
“He was just a blessing to have on scout team,” defensive back Alijiah Huzzie said after the game. “But I’m glad he’s not on scout team anymore. I’m glad he’s on the other side getting those reps.”
He’s now back getting first-team reps with the offense and his efforts showed out on the field after quarterback Drake Maye found Walker late in the first quarter, giving him his first touchdown as a Tar Heel.
Just days before the game, Tez initiated a meeting between Drake, himself and the other receivers to watch film before the game.
“It’s nice to have him out there,” Maye said after Miami. “I saw it tonight. He helps the guys around him. He’s unselfish, tough to bring down and confident. Seeing his smile out there is fun, good times.”
The return of Tez to the offense and his first outing in UNC threads adds an impressive element to the program. His speed, eye for the ball, and ability to take the top off the opposing team’s defense is something I think we’re gonna see more of the remainder of the season and his connection with Maye seemed almost seamless.
Since arriving in Chapel Hill back in January and even through the struggles that came with his eligibility being denied, Tez has trained with his quarterback for months – learning the ins and outs of his game and preparing for the moment he’d step on the field.
His comeback comes a crucial time after the Tar Heels lost receiver Kobe Paysour, who is out indefinitely with a broken foot. Tez Walker adds a dimension to UNC’s offense and against Virginia I think we’re going to see even more of who he is and the kind of player he can become.
“I’ve never been prouder of a kid,” Brown said. “We had him carry the flag out because we thought the whole state rallied behind him. We thought that was important for him to be able to say thank you. He wasn’t angry he didn’t go in first, wasn’t angry he didn’t start. He just wants to win.”
And with Tez being back, winning the whole thing doesn’t seem too far off for these Tar Heels.