Rewritten: This piece was written by Pat Welter, a multimedia journalist for WRAL Sports, and Mark Bergin, a senior multiplatform producer for WRAL.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Tez Walker, the new wide receiver for the North Carolina Tar Heels, is well aware of the long and challenging path he has taken to join the team.
“It’s incredible,” Walker expressed. “I believe anyone with empathy who hears my story would relate. It was a difficult journey to get to where I am now.”
“I demonstrate it through my performance and my visible emotions on the court.”
Walker’s grandmother never anticipated that his eligibility for the 2023 season would garner national attention.
Loretta Black, the grandmother of Walker, expressed her family’s disappointment with the prolonged dispute with the NCAA.
In December of 2022, Walker made a commitment to attend North Carolina. However, just one month later, the NCAA Division I Council modified the regulations pertaining to players’ eligibility to compete after transferring.
Walker’s relatives and University of North Carolina coaches believed he should be granted immediate eligibility to participate in games.
Although there is proof to support it, the family asserts that Walker should have received a waiver, but the NCAA classified him as a two-time transfer.
Black stated that he provided all the requested information, including his medical history, doctor’s note, and any other relevant documents related to his condition.
“I was deeply affected by this situation because I didn’t understand the reason for needing all of that information, and ultimately not being able to receive the waiver despite following your instructions,” Black expressed. “We provided all truthful and accurate information, without any deception. It was incredibly hurtful to have this happen to him.”
In the beginning of October, the NCAA declared that Walker was cleared to participate, which went against previous decisions.
“It has been quite a ride,” stated Ivey Cody, Walker’s mother. “It has certainly felt like an amusement park for me.”
“It has been a voyage.”
Black remembered Walker informing him that he was given permission to participate.
“We were sitting here watching TV,” Black said. “Matter of fact, it was his mom’s birthday when he called, and so, he said, ‘I was trying to call mama. I called you … I’m playing Saturday.’ I’m like, ‘Huh?’”
Black inquired with Walker about his eligibility to participate for the remainder of the 2023 season.
According to Black, he confirmed and affirmed the statement with a “yes.” As a result, I expressed my excitement by yelling, shouting, and giving thanks to God. It was truly fantastic news.
Walker expressed his gratitude towards his grandmother, stating that she has been there since the beginning.
Cody stated that she was loudly voicing her thoughts throughout the entire house.
The NCAA announced that its employees were made aware of updated details regarding Walker in early October. As a result, Walker was granted a transfer waiver based on this information.
“When things turned around, it made a big impact,” Black stated. “We were filled with excitement, overwhelmed, and thrilled for him to see his dreams come true.”
The NCAA stated that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill did not provide the information until the week of October 2. The association also emphasized the importance of protecting the privacy of student athletes when it comes to sensitive matters.
Black was asked by WRAL Sports if she was able to reveal the information she knew.
Black stated that they were unsure because they had provided all the requested information. They expressed a desire to be informed of any new information.
Cody stated that she believes the participation of Attorney General Josh Stein was the deciding factor. Stein was one of the individuals who officially asked the NCAA to reassess its decision. Former Governor of North Carolina Mike Easley also exerted pressure.
Cody believes that the attorney general’s influence and pressure were the primary factors in the new information that was presented.
“Undoubtedly, they are obligated to provide an explanation to defend their stance. However, I believe we are all aware that it was the pressure from the attorney general, rather than his own desire, that led to his decision not to pursue the matter further, as stated in his letter.”
Walker stated that he is uncertain about the reason behind the NCAA’s decision to change.
“I was participating in scout team practices every day, assuming my season had ended,” Walker stated. “I was getting ready for the upcoming year.”
“I was uncertain about my plans for next year. I wasn’t sure if I would return, enter the draft, or attempt to secure a late pick or sign with a team.”
Walker expressed that witnessing numerous individuals supporting him made him believe he had made the correct choice in coming to this place.
WRAL Sports inquired about the impact on Walker as the discussion about his eligibility continued for several months.
The speaker, Black, emphasized that one cannot understand someone else’s struggles. Despite their claims of being fine, things may not be fine for them.
Cody mentioned that Walker would not be involved in the NCAA’s decision when he comes back home.
Cody explained that when he arrived home, he seemed emotionally withdrawn and did not engage in conversation. Although he did not explicitly share his thoughts, Cody could tell that something was weighing on his mind.
Tez Walker’s Charlotte roots
During his time at West Charlotte High School, Walker and his sister resided with Black.
Black stated that the individual has been in his presence since birth.
Cody mentioned that she was a young mother when she had Walker. She also shared that she has gained valuable insights in raising a child.
Cody said that he was not a difficult child to raise.
Black stated that she had to have surgeries in the years 2000 and 2017.
“When I underwent surgery, I had to get both of my hips replaced, one on the left and one on the right. Then, I also had to have my left knee replaced. Unfortunately, I ended up breaking that knee and had to wear a cast. This left me in a wheelchair for a period of time. During this difficult time, he was there for me, making sure I took my medication. In return, I taught him how to cook and took care of other tasks.” – Black shared.
Walker served as Black’s caregiver for four to five months, taking care of household tasks, cooking, and ensuring Black took her prescribed medications.
“During my surgical procedures for both hips and my left knee, as well as my broken knee which required a cast, I was reliant on a wheelchair,” Black recalled. “Throughout that period, he provided excellent care for me.”
Black thanked her grandson for his assistance.
Black stated that he always made sure I was taken care of before he went to practice or did anything else, including playing his game or attending to his personal matters. He wanted to ensure that I was in good shape.
According to Joshua Harris, Walker’s coach at West Charlotte High School, Walker was an exceptional student.
According to Harris, during conversations with coaches about recruiting, she described the individual as someone who is suitable to bring to their grandmother’s house for dinner without the worry of them causing any embarrassment.
Harris likened Walker’s behavior to that of NBA player Kevin Durant.
According to Harris, Walker is simply interested in playing basketball. He will demonstrate leadership through his actions and daily preparations, but he is not someone who is loud and enthusiastic.
He will let his performance speak for itself, and everyone can witness the dedication he puts in from Monday to Saturday or even Monday to Sunday.
Black also mentioned that Walker had to recover from an ACL injury in the summer of 2019.
Black described that period as a very difficult and challenging time. He thought he would never be able to play football again, but fortunately he was given the opportunity. He put in a lot of effort and dedication to get back in shape and now he has achieved his goal.
Black stated that she was unable to attend Walker’s high school football and basketball games. She also mentioned feeling anxious when colleges were considering recruiting him.
“I was content with wherever he ended up. I still felt joy and pride,” Black expressed. “Of course, I wanted him to come home with me – maybe that’s just me being self-centered – but I was extremely proud of him for having the chance to explore his choices.”
Cody noted that her son was exceptional when he joined the junior varsity squad at West Charlotte.
Cody shared that the coaches were impressed with his potential and praised him, which he found encouraging since he was on the JV level. They spoke highly of him.
“That was the moment I realized this was something unlike anything else.”
Tez Walker’s transfers explained
In June 2018, Walker initially agreed to attend East Carolina. However, in November 2018, he changed his mind and withdrew his commitment. In February 2019, he officially joined East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. His freshman season was originally scheduled for Fall 2019.
Cody originally desired for her son to attend a nearby college.
“I thought, ‘Geez Devontez, you need to stick around’,” Cody remembered. “But then my older sister suggested, ‘Let him venture out of state’.”
“After that, I relaxed and allowed him to guide his own journey.”
During the summer of 2019, Walker sustained a knee injury. ETSU granted him the opportunity to “grayshirt,” delaying his enrollment in the program until the spring practice of 2020.
Walker expressed discomfort and concern about the possibility of losing his scholarship and being relegated to a walk-on role on the school’s team.
Walker expressed doubt that the situation would remain unchanged.
In early 2020, he transferred from ETSU to North Carolina Central University in Durham.
“I had only one chance, so I’m going to take advantage of it and do my best, which I did,” Walker stated. “It was a favorable location, a great spot.”
In July of 2020, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which includes NCCU, canceled the fall 2020 sports season because of the COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in Walker missing out on another season.
Cody explained that he didn’t have time to question the journey, he just had to accept everything as it happened.
In the spring of 2021, Walker trained with North Carolina Central. He expressed concerns about the upcoming 2021 football season, as the school had recently ended its baseball program due to the financial consequences of COVID-19.
Before committing to Kent State and entering the transfer portal, Walker had not yet played in a college football game.
During his time in high school, Walker mentioned that he was recruited by Kent State. Harris was acquainted with the coaching team at Kent State.
Walker explained that the organization was aware of the ACL injury. They expressed interest in bringing him in for a trial and potentially offering a scholarship if he performed well, but there were no guarantees.
Walker mentioned that he needed assistance in covering the cost of his airfare.
Walker shared, “I went to the tryouts and was stopped during the workout to be told that I earned a scholarship.”
Cody informed his mom that Walker had her watch a video featuring Deion Sanders, the current coach of the Colorado football team. The video discussed the various tiers of football and the processes of scouting and recruiting for teams.
Cody expressed, “That moment completely shifted my mindset. It helped me understand why he aimed for larger opportunities at schools like Kent State, North Carolina, or elsewhere.”
In the 2021 and 2022 years while playing for Kent State University in Ohio, Walker made 63 catches for a total of 1,045 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in 16 games. Walker’s standout game at Kent State was on September 24, 2022 when he caught seven passes for 106 yards and a touchdown during their game against Georgia, who were the reigning national champions.
Cody described Walker’s time at Kent State as a positive experience, having attended one game and gaining significant exposure during his two seasons there.
Black had yet to witness Walker in action on the college football field.
Cody mentioned that the plane tickets were expensive.
In December of 2022, shortly after Kent State’s head coach Sean Lewis departed to become the offensive coordinator for Colorado, Walker once again joined the transfer portal.
“I have always aspired to play for a Power 5 team. I wouldn’t necessarily single out UNC,” stated Walker. “Growing up in this state and constantly seeing the UNC logo, it holds great significance.”
“When I received the phone call, I immediately knew. I had already decided where I wanted to go.”
Walker referred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as his ideal college.
Black explained that she had the opportunity to watch him play.
Cody expressed her confidence in Harris, the high school coach of her son, to guide him in his choice to transfer to North Carolina.
Cody stated that it was a simple task for him and he was able to complete it effortlessly by going with the natural progression.
According to Harris, North Carolina provided a sense of comfort for Walker and his family. However, there were no assurances made by North Carolina regarding his waiver, as stated by Harris.
Harris said that we were aware that it could go either way before going in.
In January, the Transfer Advisory Group of the NCAA Division I Council implemented fresh guidelines for students transferring from four-year colleges.
On April 5, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill filed a request for exemption from legislation with the NCAA on behalf of Walker. The NCAA committee staff rejected Walker’s request for an exemption in May, June, and July.
North Carolina began playing Walker after he was deemed eligible by NCAA regulations.
On October 7th, Walker made his first appearance for North Carolina against Syracuse in Chapel Hill. He managed to catch six passes for a total of 43 yards.
“I recently studied all the plays, so I was focused on committing them to memory,” Walker explained. “I tried to stay calm, knowing it would be an intense experience when I finally got out there on game day.”
Black witnessed Walker’s football skills for the first time during the Syracuse game, which was the first time in his high school or college career.
Black exclaimed, “It was as if I couldn’t believe I was actually here!” He continued, “I couldn’t believe this is what it actually looks like.”
“It was an incredible experience. The fans were amazing. Once they learned our identities, they showed incredible kindness and generosity. We are grateful to the fans and staff for supporting Devontez and helping him.”
Cody mentioned that her preferred moment was when her son entered the Kenan Memorial Stadium with a North Carolina flag.
Cody described the scene as stunning and sincere, bringing warmth to his heart.
Walker described the experience of carrying the flag.
“It was amazing,” Walker said. “Being from the state and doing that in a big moment like that, it was [really] heartfelt.
As a native of this area, it is the ultimate aspiration for any athlete in North Carolina to achieve something like this.
According to Black, this was the first time she had witnessed Walker play in real life “since he was young and learning how to play football.” She also had the opportunity to join Walker on the field to celebrate after the game.
“I never set foot on the field,” Black stated. “It was a highly exhilarating moment for me.”
Walker explained the feeling of being on the field with his loved ones following the game.
Brown expressed joy at being able to see things from the perspective of those around him, stating that he was determined to advocate for Black individuals.
I had a unique journey, so it means a lot to me that others can witness the struggles I overcame to reach this point and see my accomplishments. They can also witness the great support and opportunities that UNC has provided for me. It’s truly incredible, and they constantly express gratitude to Coach Mack Brown for his contributions to my success.
Black stated that she found it difficult to make her way from the parking structure to the stadium and required a day or two of rest afterwards.
Black stated that the experience is valuable and worth enduring any discomfort.
On October 14th, Walker had a breakthrough performance in a 41-31 victory over Miami. He recorded six receptions for 132 yards and scored three touchdowns.
“I received numerous text messages from different individuals, with messages along the lines of ‘Your man is having his big debut,'” Harris stated. “My reply was, ‘No, you all just arrived at the party.'”
Harris stated that both he and Walker’s family were well aware of his abilities on the field.
Cody was present at the Miami game, but Black was unable to attend.
Cody exclaimed, “He has arrived!” and that was all.
In four out of the seven games he’s participated in, Walker has been the top receiver for the Tar Heels.
The future of Tez Walker’s football career is in question.
On Saturday, North Carolina will face their rival NC State in a game where both teams hold an 8-3 record. This may be Walker’s last game playing for the Tar Heels.
Numerous athletes who are set to join the NFL choose not to participate in their university’s bowl game in order to prevent potential injuries.
Several draft analysts anticipate that Walker will be chosen in the 2024 NFL Draft if he opts to depart from his university.
Walker stated that his dream of playing in the NFL began at the age of 6.
“That is my desired career path,” expressed Walker.
Drake Maye, the quarterback for North Carolina, is highly anticipated to be one of the first picks in the 2024 draft.
According to Walker, Maye is at a superior level compared to other quarterbacks. There are not many others like him.
Walker stated that his objective for the 2023 campaign is to achieve 1,000 receiving yards, even though he did not participate in North Carolina’s initial four games. Currently, Walker has accumulated 39 receptions for 670 yards and six touchdowns. Additionally, he expressed his desire to maintain a 3.0 GPA in every semester.
According to Walker, he maintains a list of his goals on both his phone and a physical piece of paper displayed in his bathroom. He makes sure to regularly update this list.
Walker stated that it is a daily occurrence for him.
Walker continues to make bi-monthly visits to Black. He maintains strong connections with his relatives.
Cody encouraged, “Never give up on your dream and always have faith.”
Walker stated that he would not alter anything about his experience.
“I believe everyone has a unique journey, and I am grateful to God for everything I have experienced,” stated Walker. “I continue to thank Him for all that is yet to come in my life.”
“Adversity is inevitable in life, but I am grateful for all of it.”