Syndication: The Greenville News

North Carolina wide receiver Devontez Walker was denied eligibility for the 2023 season after a failed appeal to the NCAA. Walker was previously denied in June, but the program has aggressively fought the decision, pointing to a number of extenuating circumstances. 

The junior only played two years of football at one school -- Kent State -- before transferring to the Tar Heels. However, Walker's eligibility struggle was a perfect storm of outside forces, including injuries, the COVID-19 pandemic and NCAA governance. 

Walker originally signed with East Tennessee State out of high school but was ultimately dropped after suffering a knee injury and took a gap year. One year later, he enrolled at NC Central, but was also unable to play after the Eagles canceled their season due to the pandemic. Without ever playing college football, Walker ultimately transferred to Kent State, where he became a first-team All-MAC selection in 2022. 

To make matters worse, Walker is the unfortunate victim of timing. Walker committed to North Carolina on Dec. 21, 2022, and enrolled on Jan. 9. Two days later, the NCAA issued guidelines limited eligibility waivers for second-time transfers. There would've been no way for Walker to know that the guideline would change before making the decision to transfer.

"I don't know that I've ever been more disappointed in a person, a group of people, or an institution than I am with the NCAA right now," Tar Heels coach Mack Brown said in a statement. "It's clear that the NCAA is about process and it couldn't care less about the young people it's supposed to be supporting. Plain and simple, the NCAA has failed Tez and his family and I've lost all faith in its ability to lead and govern our sport. They've messed so many things up as it relates to college football, and now their failures have negatively impacted the life of one of our own.

"Moving forward, our Carolina family is strong and we need to wrap our arms around Tez, lift him up, and make sure we continue to do all we can to support him," Brown continued. "He's continued to work, on the field and off, and remained an amazing member of our program throughout this ordeal. I know that will continue to happen because that's the kind of person he is. Despite this setback, Tez's future remains bright and we'll continue to do everything we can to help him fulfill all of his dreams."

Brown's statement concluded with an incensed shot directed at college athletics' governing body: "Shame on you, NCAA. SHAME ON YOU!"'

Coming to Chapel Hill was a homecoming for Walker, who played high school football in nearby Charlotte. North Carolina publicly stated that Walker has mental health considerations to take into account, along with moving to North Carolina in order to be closer to his ailing grandmother. 

"The NCAA takes student-athlete mental health and well-being seriously, as demonstrated by the D-I board in April that will now require all member schools to provide for the first time increased mental health resources and medical support for college athletes, among other benefits" the NCAA said in a response. "For student-athletes who transfer for a second time and do not receive a waiver to compete immediately, those resources and support systems are still available acclimate to their new schools prior to competing the next year." 

Both NC Central and Kent State support Walker's immediate eligibility, according to North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham. 

"The NCAA had an opportunity to demonstrate that this is a new membership organization by using common sense, reason and compassion to determine the eligibility of Tez Walker," Cunningham said in a statement. "On eight different occasions, the organization had the opportunity to demonstrate it can make sound and reasonable decisions in the best interest of student-athletes based on individual circumstances. Instead, the NCAA made a maddening, frustrating and wrong decision -- for Tez, for college football and for college athletics."

Walker rated as the No. 6 overall transfer and No. 2 wide receiver in the 247 Transfer Portal ratings. The junior posted 58 catches for 921 yards and 11 touchdowns in a breakout sophomore season at Kent State. Walker was expected to take a starring role in the North Carolina offense next to Heisman hopeful quarterback Drake Maye

Musician Eric Church wore Walker's No. 9 jersey onto the field while taking part in the ceremonial coin toss before the Tar Heels' 31-17 victory over South Carolina. To show support, Maye wore Walker's jersey to postgame press conferences with Walker's name facing outwards.