The NCAA seems to be cracking down on the immediate eligibility for two-way transfers.
News came down on Tuesday that two players — North Carolina receiver Devontez Walker and Florida State defensive lineman Darrell Jackson — have both been denied hardship waivers to play at their new schools this upcoming season.
The NCAA allows players to transfer once and become immediately eligible. Players who have graduated are also immediately eligible, but the NCAA has tightened the rules for players transferring for the second time. It could have a major impact on UNC’s season.
While Jackson would have played a role in Florida State’s defense, Walker was expected to be the main target of North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye this season. A transfer from Kent State, Walker garnered so much buzz during the spring that he was named to the preseason all-ACC team.
Walker explained in a statement on Tuesday that he has been transferred to a school close to home to be near his grandmother, who is dealing with health issues. He said the process of waiting for the eligibility decision “has been extremely difficult for me and my family.” North Carolina has appealed, but as it stands, Walker will not be able to compete in Week 1 vs. South Carolina.
“The first and foremost reason I decided to transfer from Kent State was the stress and anxiety I felt being away from home while my grandmother had 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,” Walker said.
“It means a lot to us that we’re in the same area where she’s just a short drive away and I have a lot more opportunities to be with her. There is also the added bonus of being able to see me play college football in person for the first time since she was unable to travel during my time at Kent State.
Walker’s path to North Carolina has had several twists and turns. He originally signed with East Tennessee State after high school, but he suffered a torn ACL and the ETSU staff delayed his enrollment until the spring. He ultimately did not attend ETSU and instead enrolled with NC Central the following year, 2020. However, NC Central never played during the COVID-19 pandemic – the Eagles saw both their fall and spring seasons cancelled.
From there, Walker ended up in Kent State. He spent two seasons with the Golden Flashes. He only had five catches in 2021 but was a breakaway artist in 2022 when he had 58 catches for 921 yards and 11 touchdowns. Following the season, Kent State head coach Sean Lewis left the program to become the offensive coordinator at Colorado. Walker’s position coach also left Kent State, so he entered the transfer portal with the idea of playing close to home.
A native of Charlotte, Walker chose North Carolina in hopes of playing for his family in 2023. Now he hopes the NCAA will reconsider his ruling.
“I’ve done everything by the rules to allow me to play this year, obviously things have happened that were out of my control and I’ve worked through the mental anguish that comes with that,” said Walker. “I want this to be over. I want to stop feeling this way. I just want to play. I want my grandmother to come and see me. I want to be a student and an athlete and I hope those in charge will give me that opportunity.”
Mack Brown: Walker is ‘really struggling’
North Carolina head coach Mack Brown said he believes Walker should be eligible because he has only played football at one other school. Brown said Kent State has been fully behind Walker’s quest to play in 2023.
“Tez has only played football at one school and should be considered a first transfer,” said Brown. “Kent State is fully committed to his eligibility. They understand and want him to qualify. We feel very good going forward that the NCAA will look into this and understand that this is not a normal case of a double transfer.
Brown said Walker “really struggles” mentally during this process.
“He fell,” Brown said. “He made a decision based on what was best for him that he felt was within the rules and for his grandmother and his family. Now we are here four weeks after playing time and we wait to see if he will play. So he has to practice every day, not knowing if he will even get a chance to play. When we look at what transfer rules are for and we look at what’s best for mental health, there’s no question that this is a mental health issue for Tez. It puts too much pressure on him.”
Florida State’s Darrell Jackson: ‘I came home for my mom’
Like Walker, Jackson came home from FSU for family reasons. Jackson, who began his college career in Maryland and then played in Miami last fall, explained to reporters on Tuesday that he moved to the state of Florida to be closer to his mother, who is dealing with an illness.
Jackson is from Havana, Florida, about half an hour from the FSU campus in Tallahassee.
“It was painful because I know what I came home for,” Jackson said. “I came home for my mom. I’m just trying to get through it and be there for my mom. She thinks it’s her fault, but it’s not. I’ll keep being there for my mom and see how it turns out .”
FSU will appeal the NCAA’s decision, head coach Mike Norvell said.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” said Norvell. “For that young man and his journey and the reason he’s here, I’m just sad that he’s going to miss games. He’s hurt. He came back home for a reason – to be there with his mother.
FSU opens season vs. LSU at Orlando on Sept. 3 in Orlando.