September 2, 2014

Suspended UNC players return with clean slate

The four football players North Carolina suspended for the Liberty game - Des Lawrence, Donnie Miles, M.J. Stewart and Brian Walker - will play this weekend's game against San Diego State University.

They'll be back this weekend, and have been back with the North Carolina football team since Saturday night, after the Tar Heels' 56-29 victory against Liberty, coach Larry Fedora said. He was talking, on Monday, about Des Lawrence, Donnie Miles, M.J. Stewart and Brian Walker.

They all sat out the Liberty game while serving one-game suspensions for what Fedora described as a violation of team policy – fallout from whatever happened at the Aloft Hotel in early August. And now?

“Their slate is clean for me,” Fedora said.

The questions, though, live on. And they will, for as long as anyone speaks on the record about what did happen at the Aloft, where the Tar Heels stayed throughout the preseason. Yahoo! Sports reported last week that UNC was investigating an altercation – the website said it might be “hazing” – involving football players.

The incident, the website reported, left Jackson Boyer, a non-scholarship wide receiver, with a concussion. What exactly happened, though, is difficult to discern. There are plenty of stories. A lot of stories. Stories alleging violent things occurred. Stories saying it wasn't so bad, a prank gone wrong.

What’s the real story?

No one at UNC will talk about it – at least not with their names attached. The Boyer family isn't talking, either, although Boyer's brother, Cole, has posted about the incident on Twitter. There, on social media, Cole Boyer alleges his brother endured a violent assault.

I wanted to know what happened, so I dialed some numbers last week. The mom and dad of one of the suspended players hung up the phone angrily. They didn't want to comment. The father of another suspended player said he hoped to find answers last weekend. He didn't know. Nobody could say, or wanted to say, why their sons had been suspended.

I wanted to see how UNC fans received Jackson Boyer on Saturday during the team's “Victory Walk.” The Victory Walk is the Tar Heels' pregame walk from the buses to the Kenan Football Center. Fans line up, two rows forming a pathway down the middle, and the team walks through while people snap pictures with their phones and reach for high fives and clap and shout names and hold their kids on their shoulders.

Boyer exchanged high fives with people while he walked by. Some yelled his name.

“Let's go Boyer! Come on, Boyer!”

The reception was positive. And Boyer looked happy, too, smiling his way down the human tunnel, on the way to the locker room, on the way, eventually, to playing in his first college game.

The questions endure. UNC's internal investigation, handled by a division of the student affairs department, continues. The suspended players – Lawrence, Miles, Stewart and Walker – are back. Two of them, Lawrence and Walker, will start at cornerback on Saturday against San Diego State.

“They did a good job,” Fedora said when I asked on Monday how they'd handled their suspensions. “Nobody liked it. They didn't like it. But they understood that was the way it was going to be, so they accepted it and just like with any discipline you face the discipline and move on from it and hopefully you don't ever make that mistake again.”

The mistakes they made, though, remain unclear.

Andrew Carter is the UNC athletics beat reporter for The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow him on Twitter at @_andrewcarter .

Related content



Sports Videos