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Tez Walker's teammates, family react to his eligibility issues at Duke's Mayo Classic


UNC junior wide receiver Devontez ‘Tez’ Walker (9) looked at the scoreboard during the Duke’s Mayo Classic football game against South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. The Tar Heels won 31-17.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tez Walker’s grandmother, Loretta Black, sported an array of UNC gear on Saturday — down to the blue eyeshadow that crinkled slightly when she offered a big, wide grin from the stands of Bank of America Stadium.

Sitting beside Black was Walker’s mother, Ivey Cody, who stood out with her red hair, making her easy to spot amidst the crowd of North Carolina fans in section 114. 

Ahead of them, down on the field — on the sidelines specifically — stood Walker. Compared to his family, the junior wide receiver appeared much more toned down. He didn't wear a jersey, just a navy Jumpman hoodie in what was supposed to be a homecoming game for the Charlotte native.

“It’s a packed house, I see a whole lot of blue, but I don’t see a number nine in blue,” Black said. “But that’s alright — number nine’s going to be out there catching that ball [soon].”

Entrenched in a months-long battle with the NCAA, Walker was ineligible to play in Saturday's 31-17 win over South Carolina — a decision his mother called “a slap to his face.” The news broke Friday night following a statement from UNC head coach Mack Brown and subsequent social media posts from Walker’s Instagram and X accounts. 

Compounded with junior wideout Nate McCollum missing Saturday's game because of a lower-body injury, the Tar Heels entered their season opener with plenty of question marks surrounding the receiving corps. Still, other players stepped up, with quarterback Drake Maye hitting nine different targets on Saturday.

It was a much-needed win after a difficult week for Walker. Brown said Walker had a hard time grappling with his ineligibility and struggled in practices.

UNC athletics supporter Eric Church, sporting a Tez Walker (9) jersey, celebrates on the sideline during the Duke’s Mayo Classic against South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. The Tar Heels won 31-17.

“I don’t know that he would’ve played well if he played because there’s so much pressure on him,” Brown said. “It’s a life’s dream to play at [North Carolina], life’s dream to play in Charlotte — against South Carolina. [His] family members had 30 tickets and he didn’t get to play.”

Brown said Walker has a meeting this Thursday with another committee, one made up of representatives from other NCAA member institutions, to review his case. In the meantime, Walker will practice as normal with his teammates' support.

Senior linebacker Kaimon Rucker said the best thing for him and his teammates to do is continue to reach out to Walker and ask him how he’s doing.

“Sometimes a hug can do something too, you know what I’m saying?” Rucker said. “So just keeping constant communication with Tez, because I know this is a very hard situation for him.”

Many teammates spoke out for Walker on Saturday, with graduate running back British Brooks calling Walker’s case “sad" and describing an "emotional" scene after the game as Walker was presented the game ball in the locker room after the game.

Maye took it a step further, pausing before postgame interviews to pull a Tez Walker jersey snugly over his hoodie.

He wore it backwards. Why?

“‘Cause if I have it on frontwards, nobody’s gonna know it’s Tez!”

Throughout the game, Walker wholeheartedly supported his teammates, and could often be seen pacing the sidelines waving a white towel. After sophomore wide receiver Gavin Blackwell dropped a couple of passes early in the game, Brown told Walker to “go pick him up.”

That was Walker’s job on Saturday — a coach and a mentor. And, if his family’s hopes ring true, he’ll be supporting UNC as its starting wideout next Saturday against Appalachian State.

“[I have] no doubt,” Walker's mother Cody said. “I’m with the coaches. Devontez will be playing by the first [home] game. I’m hopeful.”

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Hopeful but, for the time being, disappointed. 


@dthsports |

Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.