Cooper wants NCAA to grant eligibility appeal for Tar Heels’ Walker

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s governor is now asking the NCAA to grant an appeal seeking immediate eligibility for Tar Heels’ transfer receiver Devontez “Tez” Walker.

Coach Mack Brown said Tuesday that Walker enrolled at UNC in January, days before the NCAA revised rules to limit waivers for two-time transfers to a case-by-case basis.

Walker, a Charlotte native who played football at West Charlotte High School, said he transferred closer to home for family reasons, notably an ailing grandmother, Loretta Black, who played a large role in raising him.

Black has been unable to travel out of state to watch him play.

“I had knee surgery, a knee replacement, two hip replacements, and scoliosis in the spine,” she said.

During high school, Walker took care of his grandmother.

“When I first had my knee or hip (surgery) at the old house, he was my caretaker,” Black said. “He washed me. Emptied my pot. Cooked my food. Did what I needed done. (He made) sure I took my medicine. He was there for me.”

Walker’s mother, Ivey Cody, said playing at Chapel Hill has been his dream.

“He’s finally at his dream point and to actually live it in the flesh, it’s big,” Cody said.

However, the new NCAA guidelines make it harder for student-athletes to transfer twice. Walker believes his case should be treated as a first-time transfer.

After leaving West Charlotte High School, he was set to play at East Tennessee State, before a knee injury led him to defer enrollment. He landed at North Carolina Central, but the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the fall 2020 season at the Championship Subdivision level and then the team opted out of a limited spring slate.

In a statement, Walker said he requested a transfer because of the stress and anxiety he experienced being away from his grandmother.

“I don’t want him to be depressed,” Black said. “I don’t want him worried about anything. Just focus on getting ready for gameday.  Just like what coach said — when the blue team goes out, he’s going out.”

In a statement, the NCAA said the Division I Council’s vote means “multiple-time” transfers must document “a personal need for medical or safety reasons” in departing their previous school to be cleared for immediate competition.

UNC has since filed an appeal.

Walker is still working out with the team and hopes to make his season debut next month when the Tar Heels play The University of South Carolina in Charlotte.

The governor’s support

In a statement Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper says he has sent a letter to the NCAA asking college sports’ governing organization “to reconsider” the decision to deny Walker’s waiver to play this year after transferring from Kent State.

“This is the first time I have taken such an action, but this is an unusual and compelling case amidst the backdrop of all the major changes happening in the NCAA,” the letter states.

Cooper is an alumnus of UNC, both as an undergraduate and in law school.

Statement from Walker:

“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 canceled 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 off 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 Associated Press contributed to this report.