CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina’s offense had little trouble adjusting to life without its top two wide receivers, as Heisman Trophy contender Drake Maye threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-17 victory over South Carolina.
But that didn’t keep Maye from expressing frustration about the NCAA’s ruling that prevented transfer wideout Devontez Walker from playing on Saturday.
Maye wore Walker’s jersey — spun backward to show Walker’s nameplate — when addressing media after the game, and Maye said the NCAA was punishing a player from achieving a lifetime dream, all in the name of making a statement.
“He lives five or 10 minutes from here, grew up in Charlotte,” said Maye, who shared an emotional moment with Walker coming off the field after the win. “We love Tez. He’s an awesome dude, and it’s a shame what’s happened.”
Walker, a two-time transfer who arrived at North Carolina in January, was denied a waiver by the NCAA this summer, and his appeal was denied on Thursday — just two days before the game.
North Carolina also was without starting slot receiver Nate McCollum, leaving Maye with a receiving corps he hadn’t worked extensively with throughout fall camp or the past week of practice.
The decision on Walker’s eligibility follows a new rule passed in January to limit multiple transfers by the same player prior to graduation. In Walker’s case, however, his first transfer from North Carolina Central came in 2020 after that school canceled its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and his second transfer from Kent State to UNC occurred before the new rule was passed.
A second committee of representatives from Division I schools will meet again this Thursday to make a final decision on Walker’s availability in 2023, and Maye said he “hopes they’ll make the right decision.”
On Friday, North Carolina coach Mack Brown issued a harsh statement critical of the NCAA’s ruling, saying he spent much of the week worried about Walker’s mental health.
“He really didn’t handle it well during the week,” Brown said of Walker. “He struggled during practice. I don’t know that he would’ve played well if he had played because there’s so much pressure on him.”
Brown said Walker had more than 30 family members attending the game, including his grandmother, who helped raise him.
North Carolina fan and country music star Eric Church donned Walker’s jersey on the sideline during the contest then presented Walker with a game ball in the locker room after the win.
Brown said the honor was deserved, noting that Walker made a point of rallying teammates on the sideline, including fellow wide receiver Gavin Blackwell, who dropped two passes during the game.
“I was so pleased that he was talking to Gavin and saying, ‘Come on, man, you’re good,'” Brown said.