February 27, 2024

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina coach Mack Brown said all week that Tez Walker would make an already dynamic Tar Heels offense even better.

Everyone saw why on Saturday night. In his first game fully integrated into the offensive gameplan since the NCAA granted him immediate eligibility, Walker had three touchdown catches in a 41-31 win over Miami — helping to push the Tar Heels to 6-0 on the season.

North Carolina has scored 30 or more points in six straight games, and 40 points in each game since Walker became available.

“I am really proud of him,” Brown said of Walker, who finished with six catches and 132 yards. “We have a chance to be a lot better with him in our lineup. Everyone is going to key in on him and it’ll change the way people play defense against us. His presence is a game changer.”

Walker waited nearly half a season for this moment. In September, the NCAA denied his final appeal to play this season as a two-time transfer. In the weeks after that denial, Walker worked on the North Carolina scout team while a legal team began reexamining his case on his behalf. Then two days before the Syracuse game last week, the NCAA reversed course and granted his immediate eligibility.

Stunned at the reversal, Walker immediately got to work, cramming in only a specific set of plays for the game against the Orange. He did not start but played, catching six passes for 43 yards. This week would be different.

Simply put, North Carolina does not have a receiver with combination of size (6-foot-2½) and speed to stretch the field and make big plays in the passing game. Earlier in the week, receivers coach Lonnie Galloway said, “His speed, his explosiveness, you have to account for him.”

Quarterback Drake Maye said Walker called a meeting with him and the receivers to watch more film on Thursday to prepare for the game. Walker had waited for this moment for six games, and he felt ready for it, but you would never know it based on his demeanor. Brown said he asked Walker, “Are you excited about tonight?” and Walker replied, “Mmhmm.”

Miami would soon find out. On his first touchdown pass, Walker lined up inside, and running back British Brooks lined up outside – completely confusing the Miami defensive backs. He caught an easy 18-yard touchdown. On his second, Walker completely blew past Miami cornerback Jaden Davis for a 56-yard score. On his third, Walker once again was wide open across the middle – and this time All-American safety Kam Kinchens could do nothing to stop him. Walker had himself a 33-yard touchdown reception. To celebrate, he did the U with his hands and then threw it downward in front of the Miami section.

Asked about it afterward, Walker said, “Growing up you hear about Miami, you see team playing them, you see them throwing the U down, so seeing orange in front of my face, might as well. They were a little chippy, too.”

Walker said he was not as jittery against Miami as he was last week because he had more time to prepare. Asked if he had a feeling he would have a breakout game, Walker said, “I had a little feeling — I just wanted to get out there and get the win, really. Just do my part. At the end of the day, winning is what it’s all about.”

Maye joked he should have targeted Walker more than the nine times he did in the game, because Walker was so effective. Walker became the second player in UNC history with three receiving touchdowns against an AP Top 25 opponent, joining Hakeem Nicks in 2008 vs 23 Boston College.

But he did more than just catch passes. Walker also had a carry on a designed run that went for 19 yards, and he recovered an onside kick late in the game that sealed the win for the Tar Heels.

After the game ended, Galloway found Walker after he was done with his postgame interview and gave him a long embrace. “He just told me congratulations, and he loved me,” Walker said. “I’m glad I’m you’re coach.”

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